Afghan Residents Growing Angry
Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has opened up a new hearing on the war in Afghanistan.
The mission here is to determine if the President’s new strategy is starting to take hold across the country, four months after the White House switched that strategy from good-old-fashioned “kick ass” fighting to population protection and economic reconstruction. Last February’s operation in Marjah is the focal point of the investigation, which as you might remember was the biggest military operation against the Taliban in the entire nine-year conflict.
Frank Ruggiero, the top State Department official in Southern Afghanistan, and Brig. Gen. John Nicholson are expected to testify in front of the committee later today.
Judging from today’s festivities, things don’t seem to be all that rosy. Senator John Kerry, the Chairman of the Committee, opened up the hearing with some strong words about the coalition’s effort in Marjah. Courtesy of The Majlis:
“Unfortunately, the initial word from hundreds of villagers of Marjah suggests the full measure of our challenge. A recent survey conducted by the International Council on Security and Development showed that a vast majority of villagers felt negatively about foreign troops and that more young Afghans had joined the Taliban over the last year.”
These are not exactly reassuring words for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. The ICSD report that Sen. Kerry is referencing is extremely troubling from a counterinsurgency point of view: 67 percent of the Afghans surveyed found the Marjah operation “bad for the Afghan people,” and a vast majority predict that the Taliban will return despite America’s overwhelming “victory” earlier in the year.
This report is obviously a little bit dated, because the Taliban have already re-infiltrated the area. Residents hardly go out at night, and many of the town’s citizens are intimidated by militants who warn them not to cooperate with coalition forces. In fact, the Taliban continues to drill these beliefs into the minds of Afghans by unleashing a widespread P.R. campaign across the city.
With Marjah’s economy in the dumps, and with NATO’s less-than-stellar performance in institution building, should we have expected anything different? 15,000 soldiers cleared Marjah in February, only to leave in a month’s time without holding and building: two pillars of counterinsurgency doctrine. And the last time I checked, we are performing a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. Talk about counterproductive.
What does this say for the upcoming NATO offensive in Kandahar? Easy…don’t make the same mistake again!
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Thomas H. Johnson of the Naval Postgraduate School and M. Chris Mason of the Center for American Defense Studies**