6 years, 10 months ago
From Rajiv Chandrasekaran at The Washington Post:
Residents of this onetime Taliban sanctuary see signs that the insurgents have regained momentum in recent weeks, despite early claims of success by U.S. Marines. The longer-than-expected effort to secure Marja is prompting alarm among top American commanders that they will not be able to change the course of the war in the time President Obama has given them.
Firefights between insurgents and security forces occur daily, resulting in more Marine fatalities and casualties over the past month than in the first month of the operation, which began in mid-February.
Marines and Afghan troops have made headway in this farming community, but every step forward, it seems, has been matched by at least a half-step backward.
Two-thirds of the stalls in Marja’s main bazaar have reopened, but the only baker fled the area a week ago after insurgents kidnapped his son in retaliation for selling to foreign troops and the police.
Men have begun to allow their burqa-clad wives to venture out of their homes, but an effort by female Marines to gather local women for a meeting last week drew not a single participant.
The Afghan government has assigned representatives to help deliver basic services to the population, but most of them spend their days in the better-appointed provincial capital 20 miles to the northeast.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Lt. Col. Cal Worth, the commander of one of the two Marine infantry battalions in Marja. “But there’s still a long way to go.”
The slow and uneven progress has worried senior military officials in Kabul and Washington who intended to use Marja as a model to prove that more troops and a new war strategy can yield profound gains against the Taliban. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, told officers here in late May that there is a growing perception that Marja has become “a bleeding ulcer.”
The central question among military leaders is whether Marja will improve quickly enough to be proclaimed an incipient success by the fall, when the Pentagon will begin to prepare for a year-end White House review of the war that will help to determine how many troops Obama withdraws in July 2011.
We discussed these very issues in McChrystal Calls Marjah a Bleeding Ulcer, and raised (at least) the following questions:
Did General McChrystal not cover the basics of classical counterinsurgency doctrine with his civilian bosses? Did he or any of his reports mislead the administration into believing that Marjah or any other town in Afghanistan would be pacified in 90 days? Did he or his reports – or anyone in the administration – really believe that this government ex machina we brought to Marjah would work?
Forgetting classical counterinsurgency doctrine which normally presumes that COIN will take ten or even more years, for anyone who has been listening and watching for the past several years, the most successful part of the campaign in Iraq, i.e., the Anbar Province, took about three and a half years from the inception of Operation Al Fajr until late 2007 when Fallujah was finally stable at the conclusion of Operation Alljah.
Security in Ramadi preceded Fallujah slightly, Haditha preceded Ramadi by a little and Al Qaim was secure before Haditha. But the whole of the Anbar Province took over three years and the efforts of the best fighting force on earth, the U.S. Marine Corps, in which more than 1000 Marines perished and many more were wounded or maimed. No one in his right mind would claim that the U.S. Marine Corps did not understand or implement a successful strategy in the Anbar Province, where the Marines had to fight their way through an indigenous insurgency (finally co-opting their services) to get to the 80-100 foreign fighters per month flowing across the Syrian border. Iraq is still not entirely stable, and its security will be a direct function of the extent to which we confront Iran in its quest for regional hegemony.
This report is so bizarre, so jaw dropping, and so disturbing, that it naturally leads to many other very important questions. Does McChrystal believe that the COIN operations will be successfully concluded within a year or even a year plus a few months? Did he communicate that to the administration? If so, does the administration believe it? Was time frame ever brought up? Did the administration simply lay down expectations without reference to historical precedent for successful COIN campaigns and without asking General McChrystal?
Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”
“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.
“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”
“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.
“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.
The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.
The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.
“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.
“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.
“Ditto,” Petraeus said.
Thus the panic at the Pentagon and in Kabul, and thus the belief on the part of the horrible Hamid Karzai that NATO cannot win, and his attempt to distance himself from NATO efforts. There you have the man who campaigned on the “good war” in Afghanistan, and the counterinsurgency experts who told him that COIN can be done with presto governments and ANA troops within 18 months.