The Obama administration is betting that the ‘surge’ of nearly 21,000 US forces to Afghanistan will produce positive results within the next year. What will happen if the situation doesn’t improve in that year isn’t stated, and leaves much cause for concern.
If you are hoping the influx of US forces into Helmand province and neighboring Kandahar will have a dramatic positive impact, this article at The New York Times should give you pause. To sum it up: the Afghan government has nearly no presence in much of Helmand. The police are near non-existent and the few that are on duty are crooked, ineffective, and poorly trained. There is only one Afghan soldier for every six US Marines, and some Afghan soldiers believe they’ve been sent to Helmand for a “vacation.” There are too few US troops to effectively patrol and secure much of the province. And finally, the Taliban enjoy significant support from the local population.
If anything, Helmand province (and I gather much of Kandahar and Farah provinces as well) looks much like Iraq’s notorious Anbar province during 2004-06, before the Awakening took hold and Iraqi security forces came into their own. And the Marine effort to secure outposts along the Helmand River Valley looks much like the effort to clear and secure the Euphrates River Valley in Iraq during 2005 (even the terrain is similar: the vast majority of those living in Anbar and Helmand live along the main river; much of the province is a vast desert expanse). The Anbar campaign laid the groundwork for success in Iraq’s most violent province. But the success in Anbar in 2005 could not be capitalized on until the Iraqi government got on its feet, the security forces developed and grew, and the US launched the comprehensive counterinsurgency program nationwide in 2007. Until then, al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni insurgents used neighboring provinces and safe havens across the border in Syria to fuel the insurgency in Anbar.
The Afghan problem has been 30 years in the making. Even if the US government and military have fully absorbed the lessons from Iraq and have put the right leaders in place to direct the counterinsurgency operation (both which remain to be seen), implementing any solutions are difficult given the poor resources in Afghanistan. And we haven’t even discussed Pakistan. Those expecting dramatic progress in one year will be sorely disappointed.
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