Now, since we’ve left the LD on this monumental clusterfuck that is Operation Moshtarak in Marjah, let’s put it all in the proper perspective…
…What matters is getting the story out, even if most of it is ISAF deliberately trying to spin a specific version of reality. So with that in mind, let’s talk myths!
* Marjeh is an “opium capital.” Not really. Helmand itself is Afghanistan’s opium capital, but there is nothing especially poppylicious about Marjeh. Rather, the military tends to call wherever it goes in Helmand some important opium name. Last summer, for example, ISAF was calling Garmsir Helmand’s main “opium bazaars"—and Marjeh is a smaller town with less commerce. Before that, it was Sangin.
* Marjeh is a “Taliban stronghold.” Not really. Almost by definition, anywhere the U.S. sends troops, whether it’s a nearby village, a previously abandoned district, or a new area the U.S. has never been, is going to be called a Taliban Stronghold. Many Taliban fled to Marjeh during the big offensive last year; that doesn’t mean Marjeh is the only place the Taliban have holed up, even in Helmand.
* Marjeh has 85,000/100,000 people. This one is everywhere, and it’s bizarre. If you look at the “town” from space, it is little more than a collection of housing compounds in a big farming area. Back in November, before ISAF’s “shaping” campaign, the Washington Post called Marjeh “a city of about 50,000 people.” That’s at least a more reasonable estimate. Just remember this: Lashkar Gah, the closest thing to a city in Helmand, only has 200,000 people in a huge geographic area (the actual “urban” part of the city has at the most 50,000). It’s about as densely populated as a Midwestern college town. Marjeh is smaller.
* 100/200/300/0 families have fled before the assault. This is one of the most puzzling assertions we find out there. Assuming an average rural household size of 10 people (nationally it’s about 8), 100 families leaving is a thousand people. 300 families leaving is 3,000 people. While that’s not the entire town, anywhere else “thousands flee fighting” is a major story—especially so if the Taliban have mined the area so heavily those who want to escape can’t.
* The Taliban are foreigners. This is the most puzzling of all, repeated most recently by the Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan. Only some of the people fighting with the Taliban are foreign to Afghanistan; the two most revelatory stories about the Taliban post-2001 were written by Antonio Giustozi and Abdulkader Sinno—both of whom argue forcefully that the Taliban is so successful because it is familiar, not because it is foreign. Giustozzi in particular lays out across several books the inarguable fact that the Taliban primarily recruit locally—they are not creations of foreigners, but of Afghanistan. It’s why they’re so damned tough as enemies.
* Marjeh is the last phase to a successful Helmand campaign. Much like General McChrystal’s bizarre claim that Afghanistan is no longer a dire situation, this is an assertion unsupported by facts. Instead of arguing this in a tiny bullet point, let’s just point out that the actual fighting men in Helmand see the whole thing going nowhere. And that’s not just the enlisted gripers—that’s a full-bird Colonel saying so.
Any Questions…? Seriously, WTF…?
It’s truly sad that we’re ill prepared for the eventual outcome… Starting with the casualties…!
War casualties put UK hospitals under strain – ahead of fresh Afghan offensive
New beds to be opened to handle rise in UK troops injured as defence secretary warns of "real risk" of new fatalities
…The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that "the current upsurge in military operations in Helmand… has resulted in a marked increase in the number of casualties requiring emergency medical treatment."
"Staff working at the ICRC’s first aid post in Marjah have been seeing increasing numbers of war casualties," it said in an operational statement.
Civilians and injured fighters find it "more and more difficult" to obtain "urgently needed medical care, owing to mounting security problems and numerous road blocks and checkpoints throughout Helmand province."
The ICRC called on all sides of the conflict to respect the needs of the injured and said it was upgrading its own first aid post in Marjah.
"Patients, whether civilians or injured fighters, must be allowed to enter and leave it freely," it said.
In the coming days, thousands of U.S. Marines will seek to transform Marja once again. Working in partnership with Afghan soldiers, the Marines are planning a major operation to flush out insurgents and allow the Afghan government to reassert control.
"We intend to go in big, strong and fast," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
British forces plan to conduct simultaneous operations intended to push into other Taliban strongholds in Helmand. The combined operations are expected to involve about 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops, NATO military officials said.
U.S. forces have moved into positions around Marja over the past week in preparation. About 200 Marines and Afghan soldiers, traveling by helicopters, seized a key intersection northeast of Marja on Tuesday morning, military officials said.
Nicholson said he anticipates a tough fight. Not only do the canals pose a significant logistical challenge for moving troops into the area — the waterways are too wide and deep to drive through — but insurgents have planted numerous homemade bombs along the approaches.
There are so many insurgents and roadside bombs in Marja that the Marines have not entered the area since arriving in Helmand last summer. Speaking to his troops Tuesday, Nicholson called Marja "the last spot where the enemy feels secure" in the Marines’ area of operations in Helmand.
We’re so f*cked…! For so little…!