Marjah is Going Well, But Don’t Pop the Champagne Yet
As the battle for Marjah rages on- and as U.S. forces continue to push deeper into the Taliban bastion- I’m starting to hear signs of optimism from my friends that the war in Afghanistan is finally starting to wind down. And I can’t really blame them for using this line of thinking. After eight years, the Taliban insurgency is feeling the heat of the American war machine with the utmost fury. And going by current casualty rates in the battle for Marjah, the good guys (the U.S. and NATO) are clearly on top; around 140 insurgents have been killed, compared to the coalition’s six deaths.
Apart from the capture of the Taliban’s No. 2 in Pakistan (which is a remarkable achievement for U.S. and Pakistani forces), the United States really hasn’t accomplished anything in Afghanistan yet.
The fact that U.S. and NATO forces (and Afghan soldiers) are taking back the Taliban strong-hold of Marjah is not necessarily a surprising thing. This was never an issue. In every battle the United States has waged in Afghanistan, the Taliban have either fled back into the mountains and poppy-fields or have retreated to other friendly towns. This is what a typical insurgency does…they withdraw and reorganize to fight another day.
Real success will come when the U.S. and NATO actually make good on their promises of peace and stability to the Afghan people, especially in a province as crucial as Helmand. Clearing is never a problem for the United States. In some cases, holding a city is not really an issue either. The real test comes in the building aspect of the strategy, and whether some semblance of local governance can be created. Step 1 is almost complete. Now we wait for steps 2 and 3.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Dr. Stephen Walt**