Let’s See How They Measure Success

by Joshua Foust on 2/8/2010 · 1 comment

The article of faith that we must have an Afghan face on Coalition operations, or that they must be Afghan-led, or at least have Afghans on them (which didn’t work out six months ago during the last Helmand Surge) has a few wrinkles in it, like the ANP’s habit of rampant corruption and brutality. But it does make for good copy when discussing the Marjeh Offensive, the offensive into Nad-e-Ali that has been publicized by General McChrystal’s staff at least since September.

The Quest for Marjeh began today, which means the newsmedia will be filled with pleasant, convenient ISAF-supplied myths about the place. Let’s track some:

The Times tells us that Marjeh is the only place the Taliban are left “in the south of the province” and it’s also where most of the Taliban’s opium crop is grown. Pretty much none of that is true—Nad-e-Ali isn’t even in the south of the province. They also repeat the meme that this time, everyone pinky-swears, they will turn the tide of the insurgency in Helmand, even though they said that last summer and the previous four summers before that (and couldn’t get their story straight anyway).

Al Jazeera, in its inimitable style, indirectly notes that General McChrystal cannot stop talking about opium when it comes to Marjeh. He also says that the offensive is all about demonstrating the Coalition brings security.

If only people were around to see it. Even as Karzai demands NATO stop attacking the insurgency through civilian areas, most of the people of Marjeh fled in terror. It’s not like they didn’t have any warning. Still, I would assume it’s difficult to wage a counterinsurgency when there are only insurgents and no civilian population to win over that could undermine them.

Andrew Exum once defined success in terms of “Afghans not intimidated.” I didn’t see i there “Afghans not driven from their homes in fear.” So how are we going to measure success this time? It doesn’t seem the Coalition cares much how its activities hurt and terrify the Afghans. Only the Taliban’s intimidation matters. That doesn’t strike me as a very sustainable way of designing operations.


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– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Chris February 8, 2010 at 9:14 am

Gotta beg to differ on the “running in terror” thing. I remember watching an entire valley of Afghans move out of the area one day when ISAF showed up. Some fighting ensued, but not long afterwards, they were all coming back. It turned out pretty well for a while too, that is of course, untill it was decided that an ISAF presence was untenable 8 months later and everyone left the ANP to deal with it by themselves. That of course is a different problem altogether. Clear. Hold. Build. We can clear and build, but we can’t hold anthing from the safe confines of a Hezco entrenched FOB.

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