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Feb 17

Written by: Diana West
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 7:42 AM 

Photo: A U.S. soldier returns fire as others run for cover during a firefight with insurgents in the Badula Qulp area, West of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

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At the end of an AP "analysis" today by Anne Gearan and Anne Flagerty comes this comment from C. Christine Fair in response to happy talk from national security advisor James Jones about how Marjah "will demonstrate, I think successfully, that the new elements of the strategy will work." Jones, the AP writers note, "listed economic reform and good local governance in the same breath with the security bought with military might."

"That's where I get really skeptical," said Georgetown University professor C. Christine Fair, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan.

"I don't know where they found 2,000 Afghan police [mentioned earlier in the peice] who are competent" to lead security for such a large and strategic place, Fair said, and she doubts the U.S. assertion that most Taliban foot soldiers are motivated by money or expediency instead of ideology.

"Where is the data coming from to support that optimism?" she asked.

Thin air?

Of course, Prof. Fair is not unique in her skepticism -- see, for example, John Bernard's excellent commentary at his blog "Let Them Fight or Bring Them Home" -- but her statement is eye-catching both for her perch in academia and its appearance in the MSM.

Here's more from the AP:

 

With combat under way in strategic Helmand province - the first major offensive since Obama ordered 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan - U.S. Marines are meeting stubborn resistance and slower going than some expected in the early days of the offensive around the rich farming district of Marjah.

Beyond the immediate battle, it's not clear whether meaningful numbers of Taliban fighters can be scared off by U.S. firepower or bought off in a future amnesty outreach.

"Scared off" -- literally. "For us, just pushing them out of town is enough," said Capt. Ryan Sparks, who leads Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. "Our goal is to take care of the people, not kill the Taliban."

Ambitious plans to install a responsible local government once the fighting stops raise questions about how long the Americans intend to stay. On its face, the campaign to make Marjah independent and strong enough to resist the Taliban commits the United States and other countries to a lengthy stay in a bad neighborhood.

Obama has promised to begin bringing U.S. forces home in July of next year. He has set no deadline for ending the war outright, but military analysts assume U.S. forces will have to remain in volatile southern Afghanistan far beyond that initial drawdown....

Experts say that the next couple of months should reveal whether the operation worked.

"The center of gravity is the Afghan people," said Richard "Ozzie" Nelson, a former White House counterterrorism expert now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Please. Spare us the therapeutic talk.

"The Afghan government has to maintain security and operate on its own," Nelson said. "But the Afghan people have to accept the government" and reject the Taliban.

Says what man's army?

In a bid to try to win over the local population, U.S. officials waited to launch Saturday's operation until they had explicit permission from the Afghan government and were able to storm the town with significant numbers of Afghan forces.

But were they numbers of significant Afghan forces -- or just bystanders?

About 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops are taking part in the big offensive around Marjah.

Military officials say they are learning from past mistakes. The offensive is designed with an "Afghan face," meaning more and better trained Afghan soldiers and a reserve of some 2,000 trained Afghan police slated to take the lead in policing the town after shooting subsides.

Economic development will quickly follow, with military and civilian workers striving to "show a better way of life" to the town's inhabitants, White House press secretary Robert GIbbs said Tuesday.

What if they don't think Western-ish is "better"?

Gibbs said the operation "demonstrates the security forces of Afghanistan in the lead, working with others as partners to make progress against the Taliban."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, says he is ready to unwrap an Afghan "government in a box" to take over in Marjah after the Taliban are expelled as a fighting force. Police, courts and local services are at the top of the to-do list.

What about drill teams and organic food cooperatives?

It's all part of the counterinsurgency theory Obama has adopted that says if people feel safe and fairly treated, they will reject the insurgents who oppress them while also providing services the ostensibly legitimate government cannot.

It's have-a-hug time at the Pentagon again.

Implicit in the Marjah strategy is the assumption that the Taliban cannot be defeated in a military sense, only marginalized and hollowed out.

No, not "in a military sense" -- in a hands-tying ROEs, hearts and minds, "counterinsurgency" and nation-building sense.

It also depends on a steady flow on international aid and development expertise that has been promised but over which the Obama administration does not hold full control. ...

Uh-oh. The UN is opting out. The story winds up with Prof. Fair. One more time:

"That's where I get really skeptical," said Georgetown University professor C. Christine Fair, a former U.N. official in Afghanistan.

"I don't know where they found 2,000 Afghan police [mentioned earlier in the peice] who are competent" to lead security for such a large and strategic place, Fair said, and she doubts the U.S. assertion that most Taliban foot soldiers are motivated by money or expediency instead of ideology.

"Where is the data coming from to support that optimism?" she asked.

I don't know that it's data that missing so much as common sense.

 

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