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by CTuttle

Onward and Upward To Kandahar

4:07 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

Gates warns of Afghan ‘dark days’

…While on his visit to Afghanistan, Gates was briefed by Karzai and General Stanley McChrystal, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, on the Marjah operation that began in February and is billed as the biggest since the 2001 US-led invasion.

He also sought details from McChrystal about his next target: restoring control over Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual home.

McChrystal told reporters troops would mass gradually in Kandahar over the next few months to reassert full control but he said he does not plan an abrupt assault like the one on Marjah.

"Militarily it will not look much like Marjah," McChrystal said.

"There won’t be a ‘D-Day’ that is climactic. It will be a rising tide of security as it comes. Slightly ahead of that there needs to be a lot of preparatory work in terms of governance."

So how is that ‘Government-in-a-Box’ working for ya, General…?

With Taliban gone, residents lukewarm to new mayor’s visit

…“They’re not here to occupy our country,’’ Zahir said of the US Marines who now control key commercial and residential sections of Marja. “They’re just here to bring you peace.’’

But Zahir, a native of southern Afghanistan who spent the past 15 years in Germany, elicited only a tepid endorsement from the men who gathered to meet him. Their questions made clear that the Taliban still enjoys deep support here, while the Afghan government is almost universally loathed, illuminating the deep challenge facing US Marines and civilian stabilization specialists as they try to establish basic civic administration.

“The Taliban provided us with a very peaceful environment,’’ said Fakir Mohammed, 32, a tractor driver. “They did not bother us. We were very happy with them here.’’

More from Gates…

The US defence secretary has cautioned against over-optimism in Afghanistan, despite recent gains on the battlefield for international forces there, warning of more "dark days" ahead.

Robert Gates made his comments during a visit to Afghanistan on Monday, his first since Barack Obama, the US president, ordered an increase of 30,000 troops US troops to Afghanistan.

"There is still much fighting ahead, and there will assuredly be some dark days. But looking forward there are grounds for optimism," Gates said at a joint news conference with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Speaking of Karzai…

Karzai pledges to rebuild Marjah

…Karzai visited the former Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province on Sunday, in his first trip to the town since US, Nato and Afghan troops launched a major military offensive in the region inFebruary.

He met with about 300 local elders in a mosque in central Marjah, where he urged them to support his government in return for security and reconstruction projects.

"Today, I’m here to listen to you and hear your problems," Karzai, who was joined by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said.

"The promises that we have made for security and reconstruction, we will fulfil them. Are you against me or with me? Are you going to support me?"

The elders raised their hands and shouted, "We are with you. We are supporting you."

Reuters took a dimmer view on Karzai’s visit…

"Today I’m here to listen to you and to hear your problems," Karzai told a gathering of about 300 local elders assembled on rugs in a mosque near the town’s main bazaar.

The elders shouted at times during two hours of sharp exchanges, decrying looted shops, house searches, civilian casualties, arrests and Western forces using schools as bases.

"I have heard no good news over the last 30 years, just fighting and blasts," said Mohammad Naeem Khan, in his 30s. "We want hospitals, roads, reconstruction projects and security."

"We want an Islamic government based on sharia (Islamic law), that has been the goal of our jihad (holy war) for the last 30 years," said Abdul Aziz Khan, among a list of eight demands that also included releasing prisoners and repairing destroyed shops.

Karzai promised to provide security, open schools and build roads and clinics. When he asked the gathering, "Will you support me?", elders raised their hands and shouted, "We are with you."

Karzai later told reporters: "They had some very legitimate complaints. Very, very legitimate. They felt as though they were abandoned, which in many cases is true. And this sense of abandonment has to go away."

He was joined at the meeting by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces which have seized most of Marjah in operation Mushtarak, which began last month and has been described as the war’s single biggest offensive.

McChrystal sat on the floor during the meeting, listening to Karzai through an interpreter, but did not speak. He later put a positive spin on the angry words, telling reporters he was "impressed at how they went hard at the issues".

"To me, that’s real democracy in action: people speaking their minds, and nobody seemed hesitant to do that," he said, adding troops would check claims of property damage or looting.

I seem to recall writing about those very same elders telling McChrystal before that…

‘No one here needs liberating’…

"The Taliban didn’t create any problems for people. Every Thursday there was a court session, and if someone had a problem, he would go in front of the Taliban mullah who was the judge," said Samad Khan, a 55-year-old poppy farmer in the village of Saipo on the outskirts of Marjah. The Islamist militant group levied a 10 percent yearly tax on his poppy crop, and let him be.

Now, Khan says, he’s worried that the assault, which began Saturday, is putting his family in danger.

"I’m afraid for my children, for my village, because the fighting is increasing," he said. He’s looking for a way to flee to the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah but said he’s scared to pick his way through the explosive-laced fields to get there. The Taliban planted countless bombs in the area in preparation for the U.S.-led attack.

Btw, do you suppose that Gates cautious optimism is pushback for these scathing reviews on Operation Moshtarak…?

Down the AfPak Rabbit Hole

The village of Marjah is a meaningless strategic backwater. So why are the Pentagon and the press telling us the battle there was a huge victory?

Fiction of Marja as City Was U.S. Information War
For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a "city of 80,000 people" as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centres in Helmand.

Our Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, recently clarified our Af/Pak policy…

… Speaking at a Harvard forum, Holbrooke said there were “two different kinds of engagement: reintegration and reconciliation.”

Reconciliation meant that Taliban leaders would begin to bridge their differences with the Kabul government, the eventual goal being some kind of power-sharing. “Let me be clear, ” Holbrooke said, there is no American involvement in any reconciliation process.

The Taliban is woven into the fabric of Pashtun society on both sides of the border with Pakistan, Holbrooke said, and almost every Pashtun family has someone involved with the movement. That’s why Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun himself, was reaching out to them. But there were “no negotiations with them,” Holbrooke said firmly.

Reintegration, on the other hand, means trying to find as many Taliban as possible who could be wooed into changing sides — a bottom-up instead of a top-down approach. American policy was directed at reintegration, Holbrooke said. That’s what was discussed at the recent international conference on Afghanistan in London, and that is what U.S. policy is directed towards.

He made no mention of any potential tension between the two approaches, with Karzai, perhaps, wanting a little more top-level reconciliation effort than the Americans were comfortable with. Nor was he asked about it during question time.

Well, Dick, could ya have Foggy Bottom and the inner E Ring of the Pentagon address this little ‘shortcoming’…?

U.N. Rejects ‘Militarization’ of Afghan Aid

Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized NATO forces for what one referred to as “the militarization of humanitarian aid,” and said United Nations agencies would not participate in the military’s reconstruction strategy in Marja as part of its current offensive there.

“We are not part of that process, we do not want to be part of it,” said Robert Watkins, the deputy special representative of the secretary general, at a news conference attended by other officials to announce the United Nations’ Humanitarian Action Plan for 2010. “We will not be part of that military strategy.”

The American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, has made the rapid delivery of governmental services, including education, health care and job programs, a central part of his strategy in Marja, referring to plans to rapidly deploy what he has referred to as “a government in a box” once Marja is pacified.

Mr. Watkins did not specifically criticize the Marja offensive, saying, “It is not the military that will be delivering the services, they will be clearing the area so the government can deliver those services.”

God help Kandahar…!

by CTuttle

Mission Accomplished?

2:12 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

As the Grey Lady recently reported…

MARJA, Afghanistan — The black, red and green flag of Afghanistan was hoisted over the center of this onetime Taliban stronghold on Thursday, as Afghan officials symbolically claimed control after a major American-led military offensive.

Symbolic indeed! The clear phase is over, somewhat, and at a high cost!

As today’s Daily Outlook notes the GoA’s dog and pony show rolled into town…

Khalili Visits Helmand, Invites Taliban to Join Reconciliation
The second deputy president Karim Khalili on Monday invited the Taliban to join the peace and reconciliation process and play their role in the reconstruction of the country. Khalili said this during his visit to the southern province of Helmand. Civilian representative of the NATO alliance to Afghanistan Mark Sedwil, deputy Interior Minister Munir Mangal and other senior government officials were accompanied him to the restive province. The delegation met the elders and officials in the provincial capital of Lashkargah and expressed grief ove the loss of civilians in the recent operation in Marjah district of the province. Talking to the people, he said the government was trying to avoid civilian casualties in such operation. He said areas vacated from Taliban would be manned by the security forces and they would not allow the miscreants to return there again. On this occasion, he urged upon the Taliban to start talks with the government to win peace for the people of the country. He said they were ready for all possible cooperation if the Taliban agreed for peace and reconciliation. Governor of Helmand province Muhammad Gulab Mangal, on this occasion, told journalists that the recent visit of the deputy president and the earlier visit of the president proved that the government was taking serious interest in improvement of the situation in the province.

More dog and pony… McChrystal visits Marjah

Ironically, the Taliban are crowing…

Qari M. Yousaf Ahmadi, Spokesman of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, on The Marja Operation: ‘The Enemy Has Now Been Entangled in Battles in Accordance With Our Tactical Plan And The Enemy Losses Have Been Spiralling Up With The Passage of Time’

…From the first day of operation February 13, 2010, the enemy troops have not been able to extend their writ to other areas of Marjah except areas, which were evacuated by Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate at the beginning of the operations as per a tactical plan to encircle the enemy forces.

When the enemy new strategy faced fiasco, they ludicrously announced to have cleared the areas. However, the ground realities are contrary to what they are claiming.

Here’s Joshua Foust deconstructing the rampant rhetoric on Marjah and Operation Moshtarak…

A Children’s Treasury of breathless media coverage, in non-rhyming couplet/quotation form.

Before:

The man with the most sway in Marja is Abdul Rahman Jan, the former police chief in Helmand. His officers in Marja were so corrupt and ruthless — their trademark was summary executions — that many residents welcomed the Taliban as a more humane alternative.

After:

“There has been very little progress,” said Haji Abdurrahman Jan, the head of the Marjah shura and a former police chief in Helmand. “The foreign and Afghan forces have advanced only 2 kilometers from their descent point. This is very little in relation to their numbers.”

Before:

However that turns up, by this point in the game we have a pattern very firmly established: in the next month or two, there will be a major attack inside Afghanistan in retaliation. And it will kill a lot more innocent people. And we will rinse and repeat and wonder why we’ve made so little progress.

After:

A crew of suicide bombers armed with grenades and Kalashnikov rifles attacked two guesthouses frequented by foreigners here early Friday, setting off a gun battle with Afghan police and killing at least 16 people.

Before:

In other words, opium behaves like any other agricultural commodity: responsive to demand and supply, with a fairly normal price elasticity and a fairly normal elasticity of demand. Yet, neither the UNODC nor most Western governments seem willing to discuss this in any great detail.

After:

A record flow of Afghan drugs is shifting toward Russia’s North Caucasus on the back of a number of anti-drug trafficking operations in Pakistan, Russian drug control chief Viktor Ivanov said on Thursday.

Alright, you get the point.

More Joshua on the build phase that we’ve now entered! Death and Taxes in Marjah, Afghanistan.

Now in an update on this prior post: Rolling Up The Taliban? It does appear that Pakistan and ISI is truly cracking down on the Taliban and others! As Memri Urdu-Pashtu reports today…

Pakistani Daily Reveals Details Of Nine Remaining Members Of Quetta Shura Who Have Yet To Be Captured, Says Pakistan Has Not Disclosed All Recent Arrests Of Top Militant Commanders.[...]

Five Taliban militant commanders, including Maulvi Alim Binori and Maulana Shamsul Haq, were killed on Monday in the Madain area of the Swat district in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), according to a Pakistani website.[...]

Pakistan’s Crackdown Forces British Security Firms To Pack Up

Several U.S. contractors who have been at the center of a controversy over the presence of foreign security companies in Pakistan appear to have survived, while the British firms have left, according to a Pakistani daily.

The report noted that Pakistani law-enforcement agencies fear that these American entities may be part of an attempt to establish ‘‘a parallel security and intelligence network’’ in Pakistan.

The survival of the U.S. firms, including Catalyst Services considered by many as a front organization for Blackwater/Xe and the DynCorp, continues to pose a challenge to the country’s law-enforcement agencies, according to a report in the Dawn newspaper.

According to a Pakistani government report, other U.S. security firms in Pakistan include Sallyport Global Services, which has a security contract with an embassy in Islamabad, and RSM Consulting.

However, all of the British companies have packed up and left the country.

Why just the Brits? The American Firms are the worst perpetrators!

I do believe the jury is still out on the ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Marjah…!

by CTuttle

Operation Moshtarak: A Week In

11:16 am in Uncategorized by CTuttle

One does get a sense that we’re beating our head against a wall. I found a certain irony in the fact that the Brits in the above clip were using an old British Fort dating from the 1830′s as a base!

Stephen Walt of Foreign Policy makes three very good points…

First, most of the accounts we are getting from Marjah are from official sources or embedded journalists, and these initial reports often tend to highlight achievements unless the operation is a complete disaster. In short, there may be a bit of an upward bias in the reports we’ve seen so far.

Second, it is always difficult to know whether a tactical success is strategically significant, especially in this sort of engagement. There was never much question about the Marines’ ability to expel the Taliban, the only question was how much resistance they would face and what the casualty ratios might be. Casualties do not seem to be that high on either side, however, which suggests that many (though not all) of the Taliban have slipped away to fight another day. That problem has always been one of our major strategic challenges, especially given the porous Afghan/Pakistani border. How can the United States and its allies pacify the entire country, when the adversary can flee and wait us out?

Third, as others have already noted, the real issues are 1) will Afghan security forces will be able to hold the area after the Marines move on, and 2) can the various groups and factions in Afghanistan achieve a workable political formula that will stabilize the country and (eventually) permit the United States and NATO to withdraw? Unfortunately, as Juan Cole notes today, there are still good reasons to be skeptical about the ongoing effort to train reliable Afghan police and security forces. And there are still few signs of genuine political reconciliation (or even compromise)


‘No one here needs liberating’…

MARJAH, Afghanistan – The Taliban’s white flag no longer flies over villages across this militant stronghold. Afghan and NATO troops have replaced it with Afghanistan’s official green-and-red banner, which they promise heralds new schools and clinics and good governance.

But residents have heard that before, and for many, Taliban rule hasn’t been all that bad. Plenty of Afghans have made a living off the opium trade, which also funds the insurgency. While some residents greet NATO forces with tea, others just want the troops to clear their streets of explosives and leave.

No one here needs liberating, they say.

"The Taliban didn’t create any problems for people. Every Thursday there was a court session, and if someone had a problem, he would go in front of the Taliban mullah who was the judge," said Samad Khan, a 55-year-old poppy farmer in the village of Saipo on the outskirts of Marjah. The Islamist militant group levied a 10 percent yearly tax on his poppy crop, and let him be.

Now, Khan says, he’s worried that the assault, which began Saturday, is putting his family in danger.

"I’m afraid for my children, for my village, because the fighting is increasing," he said. He’s looking for a way to flee to the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah but said he’s scared to pick his way through the explosive-laced fields to get there. The Taliban planted countless bombs in the area in preparation for the U.S.-led attack.

Definitely proof positive that we’re winning over their ‘hearts and minds’!

The BBC has a decent timeline on Operation Moshtarak…

More BBC… Afghan press weighs offensive one week on

Several notable Afghan editorials:

EDITORIAL in WEESA

[The government and Nato] try to show that the operation is very important to find pretexts to bring and deploy a large number of troops there. There are huge resources of oil in Helmand, Nimroz and Herat provinces that can meet the western requirements for decades.

EDITORIAL in DAILY AFGHANISTAN

The Taliban has usually staged guerrilla attacks, planted mines and committed suicide bombings instead of waging face-to-face war… Therefore, people won’t value the achievements of the current operation (seizing Marjah District from the Taliban) until they observe practical changes… The government must install administrative and judicial officials in this district and expand the government’s control there.

A cynical lot, those Afghans!

by CTuttle

A Primer On Operation Moshtarak

10:03 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

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…

Mythbusting Marjeh

…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

War casualties ‘increasing’ ahead of Afghan assault

…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.

"A Tough Battle Ahead"

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…!

by CTuttle

Come Together… The Monster Jam!

6:33 pm in Uncategorized by CTuttle

Make love, not war!
-John Lennon

The BBC’s Frank Gardner filed this gem of a report today…

If the success of all military operations depended on surprise, Operation Moshtarak would be doomed before it began.

But casting convention to one side, Afghan and Nato Isaf commanders behind the coming Moshtarak (meaning "together" in Dari) have purposefully given their insurgent enemy as much notice as possible that they are preparing to arrive in his midst.

I do find some irony in the fact that Moshtarak means "together" in Dari, although the bulk of the population in southern Afghanistan speaks Pashto.

But I digress…

‘Fan club’

So why give the Taliban the heads-up and allow the insurgents time to escape or – just as likely – to scatter the paths of oncoming troops with lethal IEDs (improvised explosive devices)?

I put this to the man in charge of all 50,000-plus Nato/Isaf troops in southern Afghanistan, British Maj Gen Nick Carter.

"What we don’t want to do is to have any collateral damage or to create civilian casualties. We want the population to act as our fan club when our Afghan security forces and ourselves arrive there.

"Because they will not only act as a restraint on potential insurgents, they will probably tell us where the improvised explosive devices are planted, and they will be positive towards our arrival."

That could be wishful thinking…

Ya think…? Do they really believe that the locals are going to throw rose petals at our feet…?

He wrote on…

The Taliban will be loath to relinquish control and on Monday a purported spokesman was quoted as saying his forces would fight to the death.

Wherever the sympathies of the local farmers and villagers lie, the one thing guaranteed to alienate them is if their homes are turned into a battleground between the insurgents on the one hand and the coalition and Afghan government forces on the other.

Nato’s new strategy in Afghanistan, signed off late last year by US President Barack Obama, rests on two principles – protecting the civilian population and partnering more closely with Afghan forces.

To that end, say Nato commanders, Operation Moshtarak has been planned from the end backwards, in other words with all phases geared to bringing security and good governance to central Helmand where it has been beyond government control until now.

They admit that many previous coalition operations have ultimately failed because after defeating the insurgents on the battlefield they have had too few forces to hold the ground and there has been too little political will to improve the lives of the population.

This time, they insist, will be different, with a comprehensive civil-military plan to establish the rule of law in central Helmand, bringing in newly trained police and a commitment to support the plan by the government in Kabul.

But the proof of success or failure will probably not be known for several weeks.

De ja vu, all over again! Some other notable snippets from the various wire services…

Afghanistan: Marines Gear Up for Biggest Fight Yet

…A major difference between the latest strategy in Marja and earlier operations is that there will be many more Afghan soldiers and police; about two Marines for every Afghan in the field, commander Amland said.

"It will be a joint Afghan army, police, U.S. Marines and ISAF forces [International Security Assistance Force] operation led by Afghans," Afghan defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Zahir Azimi told reporters in Kabul today.

The ratio was about 10-1 in July’s offensive in Kanjar.

U.S. Announces Helmand Offensive

"This combined force will strike a victory for the future of Afghanistan," the coalition release said. It ended with the Arabic phrase "En shallah," or "God willing," a traditional refrain among Muslims.

At times, the U.S. took a similar tack in Iraq, signaling in advance that the 2007 troop surge there would focus on Baghdad. Likewise, Pakistan’s military telegraphed its intention last year to attack insurgents in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan.

"It is a fascinating tactical decision to advertise an assault openly before it commences," said Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The foreshadowing has potential benefits, Mr. O’Hanlon says. If a substantial number of insurgent fighters choose flight over fight, the coalition and Afghan government score a relatively easy win—and the opportunity to brag about it to a public skeptical of its achievements.

When has Mr. O’Hanlon ever been right…? *gah*

Afghan lead

The Afghan defence ministry says the anti-Taliban push will be led by Afghan security forces as part of plans to hand over military and police responsibility to the Western-backed government.

"It will be a joint Afghan army, police, US Marines and Isaf forces operation led by Afghans," Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a defence spokesman, said.

The operation will feature the largest contingent of the Afghan National Army yet deployed on such an attack.

"They’re due to take the lead in these sort of attacks by the end of this year, so its their performance that’s going to be critical in this assault," Chater said.

That is particularly troublesome…! When the ANA aren’t stoned, will they actually stand and fight…?

Speaking of the ANA… I’m sure this will go over like a lead balloon…

Afghan President eyes return to conscript army

…"This will be philosophically one of our pursuits as we move ahead, into the future, in consultation with the Afghan people," Mr Karzai told senior officials and security experts at a conference in Munich, southern Germany.

"Right now we have a volunteer system, which means an army entirely paid for, and professionals," he said, noting, "as in other countries, Afghanistan had a strong tradition of conscript army".

Here’s an excellent synopsis of how screwed we truly are…

A London fog on Afghanistan

…The London conference, sadly, gave little confidence that NATO is moving any closer to its objectives in Afghanistan. A few days before leaders met here, we learned that the Afghan National Army and Police forces will be substantially increased: from 97,000 to 171,000, and 94,000 to 160,000, respectively, by the end of 2011. The security of a growing number of provinces will also come under the responsibility of the Afghan army after 2011. It all sounds nice on paper, but these policies are not remotely realistic, and as Anand Gopal reported in the Christian Science Monitor in April 2009, they have all been tried and found wanting already.

The number of ANA troops who are capable of combat is about 60,000, and turnover is reported to be as high as 25 percent per year. Given the insufficient number of Western military trainers, NATO will almost certainly miss its target numbers for the ANA. The key problem is training officers, which requires a lot of time the coalition doesn’t have. And it is extremely difficult to build an army when the structures of the state are crumbling around it on all sides.

U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has become almost bewilderingly self-destructive. The White House has constantly slapped Hamid Karzai in public, demanding that he make reforms that would be difficult at the best of times, while performing an end run around him that diminishes his standing even further.

At this rate, when it withdraws, Washington may leave nothing behind in Afghanistan but warring factions — a mess not unlike the one that precipitated the Taliban’s rise to power in the first place.

We just never learn…!

Get your tickets now for the Mother of all Monster Jams…! Coming together in Marjra soon… One time only…!

Rawk On, Dood(ette)s!