Going Soft on Kandahar

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 3 months ago

Recall from several months ago that operations were launched into Marjah, and the “government in a box” that General McChrystal thought would be so successful was a flop.  He then called Marjah a bleeding ulcer after only a few months of counterinsurgency, like some impatient child waiting for candy.  It became apparent that Marjah would be long term counterinsurgency work (is there any other kind?), but that didn’t stop General Rodriguez from postulating that it was the slowness of governmental services that caused the delays in turning Marjah into Shangri-La.  It certainly couldn’t be the model, so it must be the execution of the plan.  Or so Rodriguez concluded.

This reminds me of a story.  A man walks into the emergency room at a hospital claiming that he is dead.  The doctors argue with him until they figure out a way to prove to him that he is not.  They ask him, “Do dead men bleed?”  “No”, said he.  “Of course not!  Don’t be stupid!”  They proceed to place a small cut on his arm to show him that he bleeds, and upon seeing his blood he exclaimed “Well I was wrong.  I guess dead men do bleed!”  Presuppositions rule, no?

And true to this non-Biblical parable, the current planning for Kandahar assumes that Marjah just wasn’t done right.  How to do it this time?  Well, recall that the Marines went into Marjah softer than their experience in Anbar dictated, more along the lines of how the British advocate counterinsurgency and how they did it in Basra.  This was a requirement of senior leadership in Afghanistan.  Also note that we have recently discussed the lessons learned from this, but the takeaway for Kandahar is much different than I would have advocated.

Kandahar is a city built mostly of mud, clay and straw — the available building materials in this harsh climate. The city’s wide avenues and narrow warrens seem to be perpetually suspended in a haze of dust from the desert that is not far in any direction.

Although razor sharp mountain peaks pierce the horizon in almost every direction, their steep, rocky flanks sweep down into an awe-inspiring scene: valleys and flatlands, green and lush with wheat, as well as grape fields and pomegranate orchards, all fed by the Arghandab river. It flows from the north through Arghandab district, down through Zhari and Panjaway.

All three of those districts, and Kandahar City, are now the focus of operation “Hamkari,” the military’s much-touted counterinsurgency strategy that has brought an influx of thousands more U.S. troops.

Brig. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges is one of the architects of the operation. “Hamkari,” he said in an interview, is a Pashto and Dari word for “cooperation.”

Officers chose the word, he said, because Afghans have a negative association with the word “operation,” which brings to mind the bloody assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand province in February.

“They said if you use the word, ‘operation,’ the average Afghan will take that to mean Blackhawks, artillery … inevitable civilian casualties,” he said.

But the word “Hamkari” also denotes a change in strategy. The Marjah offensive earlier this year aimed to deliver Afghan security forces and government institutions as soon as the military operation ended. But more than six months later, both objectives are proving more difficult than military planners expected.  [Editorial comment: The military planners haven't been reading The Captain's Journal]

Recognizing this, military strategists in Kandahar are focusing more on building Afghan government and security institutions in tandem with military operations. They say both aspects of the operation are necessary in order to secure the population from Taliban control.

Hodges likened Hamkari to a “rising tide of security.”

The so-called “military planners” should be fired for incompetence.  So the plan is to bring a “super-superlative government in a box on steroids” since the regular old “government in a box” didn’t work.  Look for the plan to fail.




You are currently reading "Going Soft on Kandahar", entry #5376 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,Counterinsurgency,Kandahar and was published August 16th, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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