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      Friday
      Feb262010

      US Offensive in Marja a Repeat of 2007 Iraq Surge, But Will It Work?

      The heavily-publicized US military offensive in Marja, a center of the Taliban and poppy fields in southern Afghanistan, is intended to yield "a large and loud victory...to convince the American public that they deserve more time to demonstrate that extra troops and new tactics can yield better results on the battlefield", according to a Washington Post story Feb. 22.  

      Like the 2007 military surge in Iraq, the Pentagon strategy is to slow down the American clock [regarding a troop withdrawal] by speeding up the Afghan one [winning a battle against the enemy]. Both surges were the brainchildren of Gen. David Petraeus.

      The critical difference between Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan today, however, is that the US already had funded and built an army of well over 600,000 security forces, largely sectarian, to protect the American ally in Baghdad. The Afghan army by contrast is much smaller, and the police force dysfunctional, though Afghanistan is larger in space and population. [See the New York Times' military analysis by C.J. Chivers, "Afghan Army Lags in Battle, In Marja, Marines Do the Heavy Lifting", Feb. 21, or the LA Times account, "Marja Mission a Test of Afghan Troops' Abilities", Feb. 13]. In addition, the dominant Shiite bloc in Iraq represents a 60 percent majority, while the Kabul regime in Afghanistan rests on fractious warlords, drug lords, and remnants of the old Northern Alliance.

      According to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, after the Marines clear and hold Marja, the building of the new society from the rubble will be done by "a government in a box" which will be dropped in behind the US lines. But it is a delusional risk that the Americans can deliver a new Afghan government in Helmand to replace the Taliban. The "government in a box" is more likely to be a transplant that will not take, leaving no reliable Afghan partner to "hand off" power to. It's the making of a quagmire.

      Even worse, the success of the US in capturing Taliban leaders sheltered in Pakistan may undermine any prospect of negotiating a cease-fire with the Taliban followed by all-party talks. The number-two Taliban official now being held and interrogated, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, has been the key Taliban leader urging peace negotiations with the United States. "And now the Taliban will have no reason to negotiate with us; they will not believe anything we will offer or say", according to an American intelligence official. [NYT, Feb. 17]. According to the Times' Carlotta Gall, "the Taliban are in a fierce internal debate about whether to negotiate for peace or fight on." The Special Operations campaign targeting their leaders can be expected to harden the Taliban's distrust of any peace offers.  

      The recent suicide bombings in Pakistan, Kabul and even at a top-secret CIA base in Afghanistan also shows that the Taliban can strike elsewhere across the region as the US becomes bogged down in the marshlands of Helmand Province. And it may be only a matter of time before militants strike in Europe or North America against the overextended American troops.

      For now, however, the Pentagon plan is simply to achieve to gain Congressional, media and public support for the new surge. Then they will come back to the White House with an expedited request to delay the troop withdrawal now scheduled to "begin" in the summer of 2011, and perhaps lay the groundwork for yet another troop increase as the presidential election nears.

      

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