In the Arena

Losing in Afghanistan

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The adage is: if you’re not winning against a guerrilla insurgency, you’re losing. We’re not winning in Afghanistan. And our performance in Marja isn’t helping any. Indeed, it hurts in several ways detailed in this excellent NY Times piece:

But the insurgents’ extensive intelligence network in Marja has remained intact, and they have been able to maintain a hold over the population through what residents have described as threats and assassinations. In April members of the Taliban visited one old man late at night and made him eat his aid registration papers, several residents said, a Mafia-style warning to others not to take government aid.

At the beginning of May, a well-liked man named Sharifullah was beaten to death, accused of supporting the district chief and not paying taxes to the Taliban. His killing froze the community and villagers stopped going to the district administration.

The fact is, no credible “government in a box” showed up in Marja when the U.S. Marines and some Afghan elements took it in February. The fact is, there is no credible long-term alternative to the Taliban. These results have two disastrous impacts on the impending battle–or something, whatever you want to call it–in Kandahar Province. It does not inspire confidence in the Afghan government’s ability to govern the area after NATO troops seize it, especially since Kandahar is the Taliban heartland. And, as I’ve reported before, the fact that the best Afghan troops and police are playing whack-a-mole in Helmand Province removes a necessary component in any attempt to secure Kandahar.

I must admit, again, I’m mystified about where this effort goes from here. Nothing I’ve heard from the U.S. military or other elements of our government leads me to believe we’re on the right track here. Indeed, it raises serious questions about the use of counterinsurgency tactics in a situation where there is no credible partner–and especially in a situation (unlike Iraq) where the insurgents are neighbors, not foreigners.