Thursday, February 18, 2010

Steve Coll discusses the ongoing offensive in Marja the Taliban's strategic withdrawal:
Of course, in the name of counterinsurgency strategy, the American commander, General Stanley McChrystal, deliberately encouraged the Taliban to withdraw by publicly signaling his plans. If the bulk of the Taliban pulled out before the Marines arrived, the thinking went, that would reduce casualties and damage to civilian property during the seizure of Marja..

I think that he has it wrong here. The reason that this offensive was so widely announced ahead of time, was to make coalition successes, and the Afghan government's presence, seem inevitable. He continues:
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.

An essential part of a clear and hold strategy is, well, the hold part. The current Afghan government is in no shape to go into the heart of Taliban country and provide an accepted, stable government. Meanwhile, the concept of strategic withdrawal only works if your opponent is unable to maintain the objective over the long term. The offensive in Marja, while about connecting Kabul with the western part of the country, is as much about achieving successes on the hold part of the operation. Fundamental war-fighting strategy says to go after your opponents centers of gravity. For conventional warfare this may be his capital or his logistics network. But an insurgent's center of gravity is the people. Marja is a far more realistic objective for the classical nation-building part of a counterinsurgency strategy. What General McChrystal is doing is announcing his intentions ahead of time, achieving his objectives, and making the success of the government look like an inevitability. This weighs on the minds of the local populations far more than the success of any individual offensive.
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