In mid-February, a thousands-strong joint U.S. and Afghan force began the assault on Marja
an Afghanistan town said to be a Taliban "stronghold." The attack was
the largest U.S. operation in Afghanistan since the original 2001
invasion, serving as a test of President Obama's more aggressive Afghan
strategy. The attack itself was a success, with the joint force now
holding the town. But the real tests come next. Attacking Taliban outposts
is one thing, but the U.S. faces subtle but crucial tests in political
and social engagement in Marja. How U.S. forces proceed, and how they
fare, could say much about the broader mission in Afghanistan.
- Impoverished Civilians Greatest Front In The New York Times, Central Asia expert Joshua Foust worries
about engaging the locals. "The international coalition's strategic
goal for Afghanistan is to build 'an enduring stable, secure,
prosperous and democratic state.' Only by focusing on the messy
medium-term stages of reconstruction -- those months, and possibly
years, after the fighting dies down -- do we have any chance of
achieving such a goal," he writes. "The most pressing problem is
displaced civilians," of which there are up to 25,000.
- U.S. Gains The Momentum The New York Times' Dexter Filkins
cheers the U.S. assault, which he says has restored the initiative to
the U.S. side for the first time since the war began. "Any historian,
or any general, would tell you the same: Lose the initiative on the
battlefield, and it's awfully hard to get it back," he writes. "It's
been a long time since the Americans seemed to be in the driver's seat
here -- or to be on top of things at all." But the Marja assault may be
the turning point.
- Misguided Obsession With 'Assaults' Foreign Policy's Thomas Johnson and Chris Mason furiously insist
that Marja has no strategic value and the invasion was a show of
vanity. "Taking this nearly worthless postage stamp of real estate
has tied down about half of all the real combat power and aviation
assets of the international coalition in Afghanistan for a quarter of a
year. The possibility that wasting massive amounts of U.S. and British
blood, treasure, and time just to establish an Afghan Potemkin village
with a 'government in a box' might be exactly what the Taliban wants the coalition to do has apparently not occurred to either the press or to the generals who designed this operation."
- Taliban Popular, Gov't Isn't The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran attends
a meeting of Marja elders and Kabul officials. "Their questions made
clear that the Taliban still enjoys deep support here, and that the
Afghan government is almost universally loathed, illuminating the deep
challenge facing Marines and civilian stabilization specialists as they
try to establish basic civic administration," he writes. "Several
residents said they were less interested in government services than
being left alone. The principal cash crop in Marja is opium-producing
poppy, and many farmers are wary that the establishment of local
governance and a police force will put an end to what has been a
lucrative way of life for them."
- Guns and Governance The Weekly Standard's John Noonan writes,
"Marine officers carried briefcases full of currency, and they
instantly paid for collateral damage to homes and businesses. It was a
fascinating amalgamation of fighting styles, with the normally heavy
and fast MOUT (military operations on urban terrain) operations subdued
by the delicate, deliberate pace of a counter-insurgency. This is the
new face of U.S. war fighting, destruction becomes construction, grunts
- Compromising Our Safety With Theirs National Journal's Sydney Freedberg points out
that the reduction of air power makes Afghan civilians safer but
American "foot soldiers think they're fighting with one hand tied
behind their back." He asks, "When is it worth putting Americans at
greater risk to reduce the danger to foreign civilians? Is this really
the way to defeat a hardened enemy that has no such scruples? Where do
we draw this line?"
- Afghans Really Hate Afghan Police Spencer Ackerman worries,
because the Afghan National Police are arriving in truckloads. An
Afghan civilian told the U.S. military, "We're with you. We want to
help you build. We will support you. But if you bring in the cops, we
will fight you till death." Ackerman writes, "I don't know if there's a
way around bringing new cops into a place where the presence of any
cops yields a we-will-fight-you-till-death warning, but it's either
keep the Marines for longer than expected to hold Marja and buy some
time for trust to develop between the police and the community."
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