Such A Thing As Too Late
That was a line that Barack Obama used as a justification for running in the 2008 Presidential campaign, but he hasn't applied it yet to Afghanistan:
The mood of the Afghan people has tipped into a popular revolt in some parts of southern Afghanistan, presenting incoming American forces with an even harder job than expected in reversing military losses to the Taliban and winning over the population.
Villagers in some districts have taken up arms against foreign troops to protect their homes or in anger after losing relatives in airstrikes, several community representatives interviewed said. Others have been moved to join the insurgents out of poverty or simply because the Taliban’s influence is so pervasive here.
On Thursday morning, 4,000 American Marines began a major offensive to try to take back the region from the strongest Taliban insurgency in the country. The Marines are part of a larger deployment of additional troops being ordered by the new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, to concentrate not just on killing Taliban fighters but on protecting the population.
Yet Taliban control of the countryside is so extensive in provinces like Kandahar and Helmand that winning districts back will involve tough fighting and may ignite further tensions, residents and local officials warn. The government has no presence in 5 of Helmand’s 13 districts, and in several others, like Nawa, it holds only the district town, where troops and officials live virtually under siege.
The Taliban’s influence is so strong in rural areas that much of the local population has accepted their rule and is watching the United States troop buildup with trepidation. Villagers interviewed in late June said that they preferred to be left alone under Taliban rule and complained about artillery fire and airstrikes by foreign forces.
“We Muslims don’t like them — they are the source of danger,” said a local villager, Hajji Taj Muhammad, of the foreign forces. His house in Marja, a town west of this provincial capital that has been a major opium trading post and Taliban base, was bombed two months ago, he said.
The current strategy of "clear, hold and build" might have worked in 2002 or 2003. Instead, the Bush Administration neglected the country, broke every single one of its promises to develop it, and used deadly airstrikes when it did try to maintain order, in most cases just leaving the villages to the predations of the Taliban. Now the Taliban is deeply embedded in the Pashtun areas in the south, and those in the villages correctly perceive the only trouble coming when US forces try to enter. This Taliban insurgency has less connection to the Wahhabist Islam sect and more a connection to the response of revenge. Lots of fighters have had their houses bombed and relatives killed and are acting to deny the occupiers, if they're not simply being paid by the Taliban enough to take up their cause.
The result is essentially a stalemate; the US cannot penetrate the Pashtun areas, and for that matter, the Taliban cannot penetrate the non-Pashtun areas, owing mainly to ethnic disparities and memories of past civil wars. I'm happy to be proven wrong by this latest offensive into Helmand Province, but I think it can only work if we adopt a "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" approach. And that will accomplish nothing.