Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes a must-read article about Garmsir:
Garmser illuminates the trade-off facing top U.S. commanders as they struggle to fulfill President Obama’s recent order to remove 10,000 troops by the end of the year, and an additional 23,000 by the end of next summer, while also diverting more of the remaining 68,000 forces to eastern Afghanistan to confront a growing insurgency there. In doing so, they do not want to jeopardize the security gains that have been achieved in the south…
The commanders are betting that they can achieve their original goals — pummeling the Taliban, building up the Afghan government and security forces, and persuading low-level fighters to switch sides — before they have to send away large numbers of troops.
Rajiv describes Garmsir as a “backwater,” which it is. In fact, Helmand has almost no strategic value whatsoever, despite its “proximity” to Pakistan (as one Marine commander insisted, even though Garmsir does not border Pakistan). And the lessons Rajiv highlights there are very good lessons: namely that with tens of thousands of groundpounders and years of time to work, Marines can pacify almost any area they encounter. It’s kind of trite to point out but it’s true.
However, and this is where Rajiv’s piece becomes illuminating:
What has occurred in Garmser has taken significantly longer than the 18 to 24 months that top military officials promised Obama it would require. The counterinsurgency effort in this district of about 150,000 people has already stretched for three years and cost the United States about $3 billion.
“Anyone who said you can go from full-on combat to transition in two years wasn’t being realistic,” said a field-grade military officer in Afghanistan, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because his assessment contradicts those of his superiors. “The lesson is that these things are going to take a lot of time and a lot of treasure.”
This is the fundamental lesson of the wasted time we’ve spent in Helmand. By focusing on such a sparsely populated backwater—by sending 30,000 Marines into a province not even Afghans care about all that much—we bogged them down for years longer than was promised (unrealistically, as even the Colonels now say), and threw out billions of dollars.
And of course in the interim, the Marines’ magic favorite Afghan pet, the police chief, Omar Jan, is so corrupt they’re still worried he’ll undo all their progress the moment they leave. Which they, of course, cannot ever do, because despite all the hifalutin’ talk of security and police work, the very basic institutions of a working political system in Helmand are non-existent… after three years and three billion dollars. It will be interesting to see what Garmsir turns into over the next year or two, as the thousands of dollars a week in subsidy and bribes the Marines paid out for this peace dry up, the lavish over-spending by USAID drifts elsewhere, and the people of Garmsir have to deal with not being the darlings of a hugely damaging “reconstruction” money dump that makes their leaders very wealthy but doesn’t actually improve their economy.
If ever a stinging indictment of our capacity for creating a sustainable solution was written, I don’t know of one.