The US Marines have launched a new operation in the north of Helmand province dubbed Eastern Resolve 2. The immediate results were violent, as Oliver North (yep, that one) writes: "they were confronted by well-armed, dug-in Taliban fighters, who employed improvised explosive devices, mortars, rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons and snipers". (Recall that Operation Khanjar, launched in early July, moved into its second phase in late July and appears to be finished. )
The pedigree of the newest operation's title reveals the quagmire that this war has become:
The offensive follows Eastern Resolve 1, the Marines' initial push out of Naw Zad in early spring. This first move was of limited effect, because U.S. troops were too thinly spread... (link)Readers may recall the Spring 2008 Marine campaign which resulted in that force holding a tiny piece of ground, with "scores" of insurgents holding down thousands of extremely well equipped American troops. Yet the American forces did not seem to learn much from that experience, as evidenced by Eastern Resolve 1.
The start-stop nature of their efforts is not the only indication that things are not going well for the much hyped US surge:
Dearth of Capable Afghan Forces Complicates U.S. Mission in SouthA Reuters dispatch spells out the personnel challenges faced by the occupation:
Ann Scott Tyson - Washington Post
GARMSIR, July 25 - [...]
The Afghan troops here, heavily dependent on Western forces, are hesitating to take on greater responsibilities -- and, in some cases, are simply refusing to do so.
The Afghan National Police officers mentored by [Marine 1st Lt. Justin] Grieco's team, for example, are resisting a U.S. military effort to have them expand to checkpoints in villages outside the town center of Garmsir as the Marines push farther south, taking with them the Afghan Border Police officers, who currently man some of those stations...
The border police, too, have resisted taking up new positions...
Shopkeepers and residents eyed the [joint American-Afghan border police] patrol silently and did not respond to greetings in Pashto. An Afghan boy swore in English at one of the Marines, who responded: "Go home."
"They're still a little hostile towards us," [civilian police adviser Stephen] Woods said. "They will throw rocks. They will give you that look. They don't trust us." ... (link)
A rule of thumb in counter-insurgency doctrine is that around 20 to 25 soldiers or police are needed to maintain security among every 1,000 members of the population.The Washington Post interviews some skeptical locals in Helmand:
Helmand, among the most restive of Afghanistan's provinces, has about 1.3 million residents, indicating that 26,000-32,000 troops and police should be on hand to sustain security.
Britain, the United States and other NATO allies have a total of about 14,000 troops in Helmand. Afghan soldiers and police are nowhere near numerous enough to make up the deficit... (link)
In Helmand, Caught Between U.S., Taliban
Ann Scott Tyson - Washington Post
MIANPOSHTEH, Aug 15 - U.S. Marines pushing into Afghanistan's southern Helmand province are running up against a skeptical Afghan population heavily influenced by Taliban insurgents, signaling a long campaign ahead.
Afghan villagers, many of whom fled the Marines' advance, say they feel caught in a tug of war between U.S. forces and the Taliban, and are fearful of both. The Afghans, primarily illiterate farmers who tend livestock and crops in the irrigated lands alongside the Helmand River, often say they simply want to be left in peace.
The Afghan government and its forces, meanwhile, are nonexistent in large parts of Helmand where the Marines are operating, undermining efforts to bolster governance and development...
In surrounding villages, the ambivalence of Afghans is palpable amid the lack of security.
During a recent patrol with MacDonald's squad, he was met with an exasperated look from Abdullah, an elder with a dark green turban and dishdasha.
"What are you doing here?" he asked through an interpreter. "What are you doing in Afghanistan? You should go back to your country."
"What do you mean, what am I doing here? I'm here to get the Taliban out of here," MacDonald replied.
"There is no Taliban here," the elder said, contradicting earlier statements about being afraid of the Taliban. Others nodded, shaking sets of worry beads.
After half an hour of this debate, MacDonald had had enough. "Alright, listen to me right now," he told the farmers gathered here. "You all are not cooperating. . . I am going to believe right now that the Taliban does come here and you are on their side."
Promising to return, MacDonald left with his squad... (link)
And, another vignette from Helmand provides some more vital context to the US surge:
Pushing south into Taliban territory, well beyond the "limit of advance" set by higher-ups, [USMC Sgt.] Harris spotted a compound flying the white Taliban flag and stopped to talk with an Afghan farmer. "The Taliban are coming next to our compound and fighting you. We don't like that," said Haji Noor Mohammed, who has a family of eight. "We want peace. Maybe you should go from here." ... (link)
Finally, Ron Jacobs has an eloquent plea to end the quagmire:
Time to End the War in Afghanistan
Unconditional Negotiations, Now!
By Ron Jacobs
It's time to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan. . .
In the recent press coverage of newsman Walter Cronkite's death, one of the moments in his storied career often referred to was his editorial comment on February 27, 1968 when he stated quite firmly that he believed that "it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate." He went on to call for negotiations to end the war . . .
The fact that Washington has been leading a military campaign to subdue the people there and create a friendly regime for almost eight years without success is enough reason to take the path of negotiations. . . If the killing and special ops designed to win the Afghan people's hearts and minds have not worked in seven years, why would an upsurge in killing work now? This is an especially important question when one considers the inverse relationship between the increase in killing and the ebbing of support for the US occupiers. . .
[T]he only honorable and reasonable way to end the sad and murderous exercise known at the Pentagon as Operation Enduring Freedom is to negotiate, without conditions and with the only expectation being that US/NATO troops will leave Afghanistan before they become further entrenched and that much of the bloodshed will end as a result. . . (link)