Quote of the Day

by Joshua Foust on 2/16/2010 · 7 comments

I’m no military strategist, but it remains unclear to me why surging U.S. forces continue to invest their efforts and their numbers so heavily in Helmand. The axis of Taliban power, guerrilla infiltration, and money flows in southern Afghanistan lies somewhat to the East, along the routes between Kandahar and the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Karachi, which serve as sanctuaries for senior Taliban leadership. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and a historical seat of power. From their birth in 1994, the Taliban have relied upon their ability to move freely between Kandahar, Baluchistan and Karachi. The Times recently carried a good piece about just how porous the border remains between Kandahar Province, in Afghanistan, and Baluchistan Province, in Pakistan. It is true, of course, that U.S. forces cannot operate in large numbers in Pakistan, and are dependent on Pakistan’s fitful, ambivalent cooperation against the Taliban. Yet that still raises the question of why the thousands of U.S. Marines available in southern Afghanistan are concentrated largely to the west of Kandahar, rather than reinforcing struggling Canadian troops in the province itself.

Steve Coll, echoing my many concerns about why we remain so laser-focused on Helmand.


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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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{ 7 comments }

Kelly February 16, 2010 at 3:41 pm

We fail to realize the importance of economics of this war and so the money trail is a low priority in practice [although it’s visbility is rising]. We won the cold war through economics but ignore it in contemporary conflicts.

Fletch February 16, 2010 at 5:24 pm

my opinion is that this latest effort is to establish a small manageable corridor for the afg gov’t to try its hand at control. the us has to have some way to say success is on track so they can withdraw without completely bankrupting the us ecomomy. it’s a feeble attempt to be sure. my hope is that the fighters retreat to the caves to allow the us to get out. i believe they are smart enough to do that.

Zarathustra February 16, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Something that just came to me is how I (and I KNOW some of you have the same situation and I IMAGINE some others do as well) discuss afghanistan with other people who not only have a decent understanding of agfhan geography/taliban densities etc. but have more than a decent understanding. have some decent understanding of what SColl is saying and what this operation looks like in the greater picture of ISAF’s problems etc.

BUT, a lot of folks dont. I guess I remember this when I talk to my parents (highly educated folks w doctrates teach at ivy league) about afghanistan because the only thing they are reading really is the nytimes. which is where a lot of folks start and end their reading/comprehension of this war. So when I read DFilkins on the front page today about how the taliban are running out of gas food etc there, the impression is that this ‘victory’ or whatever is gonig to win this war.

now please correct me if im wrong-but it seems that this is not the only district with taliban members?

the reports focus on the poppy growing importance/ bomb building of the region which would disrupt income to taliban. what i would like to know (and its very well possible that this is the case i just dont know) is whether a significant number of the total, a plurality or even not, but a significant number, come from what seems to be this very focused small ink spot here, and how stifling what they want to stifle here effects the greater afghan ISAF campaign…

i guess it seems important for someone (foust or whoever) to frame this specific region’s characteristics a bit more? (if u have already can u link to it?) I mean i see some map and see that the area is relatively flat (yes?) and think wah they picked a nice flat one to roll out a ‘victory’ rather than stake a big (media) campaign on some high mtn top region which would be so much harder….

Wahe Watan February 16, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Recent article in Washington Times”Surge, Bribe, Run” is indicating the intentions of he US in the region and the recent unfolding situation of the region is showing those signs as well.

For instance, the arrest of the recent top commander of Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani (A.k.a. Mullah Brather in Karachi), has been sacrificed by their own long trusted fellows, the notirious Pakistani intellgence ISI, for sure Pakistani intellgence ISI cut a deal for for millions of dollars with the US because they do not hand over their own big fish easily. Perhaps, US and ISI both are once again willing to replay their old games of 1980’s in the region as merky partners. The old saying in the region goes you can not put your finger in the same hole again while you know first your finger has gotten bit from snake in the hole, if you do it a second time it means you know the snake inside the hole, and it will bite you again.

For the web host, it will be great if you connect the dot in your top map by adding the Balochistan along with the above central Asian States which is also historically connected to the region.

M Shannon February 17, 2010 at 12:51 am

Helmand is only important because the Brits are there.

The British are the most staunch of US allies. The Brits took over Helmand and failed to pacify it. Without significant US reinforcement the Brits would be in the same situation as Basra: hiding in a coupe of large bases while the insurgents have free reign to control the population. The British Army can’t stand another clear defeat and expect not to have massive budget cuts as it’s ability to conduct operations becomes questioned by a cash strapped government. This campaign is about the survival of the British Army as the 2nd Tier NATO force and not dropping down to the level of Italy.

Why the offensive? What else do you expect a USMC dominated force to do? Marjah becomes an enemy fortress and “Taliban Capital” because it is the Marine objective. If the USMC is attacking a place it must be vital. That’s backwards but so has the entire war. Afghanistan is important because we’re there. Period.

Zarathustra February 17, 2010 at 9:37 am

Thanks for the Brit tip- i hadn’t thought about that….

vince February 18, 2010 at 6:41 am

Well, US/international media have been talking about Helmand since Robert Gates, then even more when Obama took “power”. The main point is getting a strategical(mediatical) victory, with US/NATO/Afghan looking like great humanitarians. Marjah ” a fortress”, key of Helmand, Taliban bastion, repeat it plenty times and people will believe it. It isn’t only that, it is also a change in US/Nato attitude, a test, to check if people can stand better an invasion(they call it liberation) if the revusling US GI live quickly the place (their faces, the way they look/behave is the main reason for insurgency, Taliban’s support, wheter or not they kill civilians: I guess people even prefer US Air Force bombings than seeing their degenerated, inhuman faces…)….

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