5 years ago
As I have said before, I think too much can be made of one of the central themes or presuppositions upon which population-centric counterinsurgency is theoretically constructed. The will of the people, it is said, is more than just critical. It is determinative. To be sure it does mean something even if it doesn’t take on the position of being the center of gravity in every situation.
But the tired meme that the Afghanis don’t want us in Afghanistan just took another hard blow. Continuing the claim to the best reporting on Afghanistan (maybe with the exception of C. J. Chivers), Tony Perry with the L.A. Times reports from Nawa, Afghanistan.
It was at the end of a recent after-lunch meeting, with the two sides sitting cross-legged on a tattered rug, exchanging pleasantries and enjoying sweet tea and stone-baked bread.
Haji Mohammed Khan, district administrator for Nawa, a government bureaucrat with three decades’ experience in war and shaky peace, had something he wanted to ask the Marines, some of whom will soon return to bases in the United States.
“Please,” Khan said in a low voice, his sad eyes looking directly at his guests, “don’t let us be here alone. You used your young people, your vehicles, your helicopters to help us. Please don’t turn around and leave unfinished your business here.”
Khan’s quiet plea echoes but one view of the hot-button issue of proper troop levels in Afghanistan, and Khan’s countrymen in Helmand province appear as divided as officials in Washington.
“There are two kinds of people in Nawa,” said Taimour Shah, a farmer. “There are those who like the Americans, but others listen to the religious leaders who don’t want the Americans here.”
There is also a third group: Those who are afraid to get too close to the Americans lest they be left vulnerable to the Taliban if the Americans leave as abruptly as they arrived.
Since a combat battalion of U.S. Marines arrived unexpectedly one hot night in July to replace a platoon of British soldiers and break Taliban dominance in the region, the U.S. mission has been a counterinsurgency operation, which is slow, incremental, labor intensive and frequently frustrating for all involved.
And with the American public agonizing over the U.S. death toll and impatient for the troops to come home, time may be the greatest enemy.
“You [Westerners] have the watches, but we Afghans have the time,” Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province, has been quoted as saying at a recent gathering.
Even as the Americans are proud of the progress made here, there is a sense that all could be lost quickly if the U.S. military leaves prematurely.
“I think we’re succeeding in Nawa, but like the elders say, if we leave, it will all be wasted,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Reggie Fox, a member of an 82nd Airborne platoon assigned to mentor Afghan security forces. “The insurgents aren’t dumb. They want to outlast the American population.”
The Mosques in Fallujah also sounded off with Jihadist propaganda up until mid-2007, at least until the Marines were seen as winning. At that point the theme shifted to one of helping the Americans. There is no substitute for strength, force projection, and longevity. The District Administrator for Nawa sounds much like the elders in Garmsir in 2008 when the 24th MEU swept through killing some 400 Taliban fighters. As the elder said when asking them to stay, “When you protect us, we will be able to protect you.” So much for the notion that the Afghanis want the Taliban.