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News | March 21, 2010

Commanders apply Marjah lessons to other regions

U.S. Army MRAPs transport hundreds of Afghan troops to Camp Shorbak in Helmand Province. Transporting large numbers of troops to the battlefield is one of several lessons commanders are applying to other regions in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army MRAPs transport hundreds of Afghan troops to Camp Shorbak in Helmand Province. Transporting large numbers of troops to the battlefield is one of several lessons commanders are applying to other regions in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON (March 19, 2010) –  The Marjah operation has served as proof of principle for operations in Afghanistan, and commanders are working to adopt the principles in other areas in the country, a senior military official said.

              The official, speaking on background, said that although much remains to be done, operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province have proved that the counterinsurgency strategy does work.

Still, actions in the region are in the early stages. Clear, hold, build and transfer are the steps in the strategy, the official said, and operations in the region are still in the hold and build stage.

The best counterinsurgency strategy is one the local government and people embrace, the official said, and operations in Helmand have that. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government came up with the plan in Helmand,  and many Afghan troops and police participated in the operation. Local tribal elders and district officials asked for the offensive, the official said, and Afghan officials wanted the operation designed in such a way so that it would minimize civilian casualties.

Local officials did not want Afghan police participating, the official noted,  because local people regard the police as corrupt.

Now, the official said, the idea is to extend the effort to Kandahar, the second-largest city in Afghanistan and the spiritual home of the Taliban movement. Taliban leader Mullah Omar had his palace in Kandahar, and it is the heart of the Pastun area of the nation.

Shaping operations – mainly political – already have begun in and around Kandahar, the official said. Government officials and NATO commanders are working with local councils and provincial officials to get buy-in from the people of the city. The area around Kandahar is just as important, the official added, and shaping operations in the outlying areas also are going on.

“These operations need to support and protect the population,” the official said. “Once this happens [and] the population sees the government as legitimate and the insurgents are marginalized, they become little more than brigands.”

The shaping initiatives will continue and will pick up steam, “but there won’t be a D-Day” in Kandahar, the official said.

The enemy’s “order of battle” is anything but orderly, the official said. Taliban are in the city, and some people sympathize with the group. But other extremists not affiliated with the Taliban or al-Qaida are there as well, and they don’t want order in the city. Criminal gangs and local warlords also want the status quo to continue, the official said.

Marja was a physical stronghold for the Taliban – the Taliban flag flew over the town, and fighters built fortifications in the area. Kandahar has problems with Taliban shadow governments, courts and community councils,  the official said, and disassembling them will take different capabilities.

Training the country’s security forces is important to getting the Afghans to take the lead, the official said,  noting that the Afghan army is doing well. “It’s uneven, but the Afghan National Army is a respected entity in the country,” he said. “The Afghan police are not regarded as highly.”

Overall, the goal is to train and field just over 300,000 Afghan security force members.

In December, President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 additional American troops into Afghanistan. The Afghan surge is going well, with about a third of the troops in place with their equipment, the official said.  Most of the rest of the forces will be in place by the end of August,  with a few units moving in later. The flow of forces is proceeding, and the official said that U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Central Command and the NATO International Security Assistance Force have surmounted many obstacles.

“It’s like FedEx on steroids,” he said.

The American transportation effort is all the more incredible when the full scope is taken under consideration, the official said. U.S. military planners supplied the needs of two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They have maintained supplies going to bases and operations around the world.  Then, “when Haiti happened, they managed to supply that without a hiccup,” the official said, referring to the recent earthquake relief mission.