Announcing the Marja Offensive

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 2 months ago

From the WSJ:

In a rare break from traditional military secrecy, the U.S. and its allies are announcing the precise target of their first big offensive of the Afghanistan surge in an apparent bid to intimidate the Taliban.

Coalition officers have been hinting aloud for months that they plan to send an overwhelming Afghan, British and U.S. force to clear insurgents from the town of Marjah and surrounding areas in Helmand province, and this week the allies took the unusual step of issuing a press release saying the attack was “due to commence.”

Senior Afghan officials went so far as to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss the offensive, although the allies have been careful not to publicize the specific date or details of the attack.

“If we went in there one night and all the insurgents were gone and we didn’t have to fire a shot, that would be a success,” a coalition spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said before the announcement. “I don’t think there has been a mistake in letting people know we’re planning on coming in.”

The risks could be substantial, however. By surrendering the element of surprise, the coalition has given its enemy time to dig entrenched fighting positions and tunnel networks. Perhaps worse for the attacking infantrymen, the insurgents have had time to booby-trap buildings and bury bombs along paths, roads and irrigated fields. Such hidden devices inflict the majority of U.S. and allied casualties.

[ ... ]

At times, the U.S. took a similar tack in Iraq, signaling in advance that the 2007 troop surge there would focus on Baghdad. Likewise, Pakistan’s military telegraphed its intention last year to attack insurgents in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan.

“It is a fascinating tactical decision to advertise an assault openly before it commences,” said Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Analysis & Commentary

Let’s not overdo the surprise and offer too many superlatives at announcing the Marja offensive.  A similar strategy was taken for Operations al Fajr and Alljah, both in Fallujah.  The U.S. Marines have a rich history of using intimidation as one of the many tools in their bag.  My problem isn’t with announcing the offensive.  It comes at a more basic level than that.

Taking a quick detour through another perspective, Joshua Foust weighs in with a nonplussed reaction.

… there is some logic to the focus on Kandahar. It isn’t the most important city evar (sic)  (after all, the Taliban would have stopped there in 1994 if it were), but the city does have a lot of significance, if only because most Kandaharis are pissed off at our mismanagement of the place. So why do we have such a laser-focus on Helmand? Why spend all the time, resources, money, and most importantly lives to secure something no one in charge can describe as important apart from assertion?  I fear the real answer is opium.

I have also spoken strongly against targeting the poppies.  I cannot speak directly to whether the Marines are targeting poppy in Helmand at the moment, but my objections to the handling of the Marja offensive are much more basic and foundational.  If there is no one in charge who can explain why we are in Helmand, let me do it (sigh) once again.

The argument to control the streets of Kandahar makes sense if that argument doesn’t also hinge upon removing the Marines from Helmand where the fighters recruit, train, raise their support, and get ingress to and egress from Afghanistan.  In Now Zad Taliban fighters have been so unmolested that they have used that area for R&R.  The city of Now Zad – with an erstwhile population of 30,000+ civilians – is deserted with only insurgents remaining to terrorize the area so that inhabitants don’t return.  The Marines are so under-resourced that they can only fight the Taliban to a standstill.  It is so dangerous in Now Zad that the Marines deployed there are the only ones to bring two trauma doctors with them.

It is a strange argument indeed that sends Marines to Kandahar while the insurgents in Now Zad have separated themselves off from civilians and invited a fight.  So send more Marines to Kandahar to control the streets.  The Taliban bullying will stop once a Regimental Combat Team arrives.  This should not be too difficult to pull off.  As I have said before, there are so many Marines at Camp Lejeune that some units are not even in the same barracks, and more barracks are being built.  Not since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has the Corps been so large with so many Marines garrisoned in the states.  Furthermore, if they aren’t in the states they are on board amphibious assault docks doing nothing.  Entire Battalions of Marine infantry – doing nothing for nine months.

The only limitation on troop levels in Afghanistan comes with logistics.  But more to the point, we could put the entirety of every Army on earth in Kandahar for the next two years, and upon leaving, the Taliban who have slithered away into parts of Kandahar and Helmand would simply come back, intimidate their way to power once again, and create safe haven for globalists.  Is this so heady and difficult that someone in charge cannot explain it as Foust charges?

I do not now and have never bought into the idea of population-centric counterinsurgency (when applied as an exclusive-use procedure).  Intimidating the Taliban out of Marja (so that you can protect the population and create governance) will only displace them to somewhere else.  Their fighters must be killed if we are ever to be able to leave Afghanistan.  Playing whack-a-mole in Helmand (or Kandahar – or anywhere else) only prolongs the agony, for Afghanis and for us.



  • Warbucks

    On the other side of the issue of secrecy, is there any evidence that we can prepare for a spring time combined forces operation in secret? Maybe the “announcement” of a coming operation is the essential way of dealing with security leaks, so we paint the best face possible on what is in reality compromised planning at all levels.

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You are currently reading "Announcing the Marja Offensive", entry #4496 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Marine Corps,Marines in Helmand and was published February 3rd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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