Operation Mushtarak appears to be getting underway in an effort to retake Marjeh in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. But it seems like we’ve seen this movie before. Here is a flashback to July, 2008:
GARMSIR, AFGHANISTAN—At this spartan combat outpost in the heart of Helmand province, U.S. marines are preparing for what may be their toughest fight yet. Under the cover of darkness, they will push out to take up positions for a battle that they hope will break up a key Taliban stronghold in what is currently one of the most dangerous regions in the country.
Here, they are not so sure. They have watched British colleagues fight to retake from the Taliban some of the same hills where old British forts from colonial-era campaigns in the 1800s still stand. Since 2006, control of this town has changed hands three times.
So, our success in retaking Garmsir in 2008 marked the fourth time it changed hands in only two years. And yet, here is AFP on the beginning of the action at Marjeh:
Thousands of US Marines and NATO and Afghan soldiers have massed around the town of Marjah, a Taliban bastion in Helmand province, poised to launch one of the biggest operations against the Taliban since the 2001 US-led invasion.
Now take a look at this map, generated by Google Maps, showing both Garmsir (marked by red "A" pin) and Marjeh (marked by purple pin):
From the attached scale, it appears that Garmsir and Marjeh are only about 25 miles apart. In this diary, I noted Senator Lisa Murkowski touting her ability to "walk freely" in the marketplace at Garmsir and how that act was eerily reminiscent of Senator John McCain’s ill-advised stroll through a Baghdad market to proclaim its safety. Now we have a major offensive needed just a few miles from Murkowski’s stunt.
But in an area where towns have changed hands so many times, there is now concern that we may see a repeat of another truly horrific experience:
Chances of success for a NATO offensive in the last big Taliban bastion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province may depend on ensuring the operation doesn’t repeat the destruction of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004.
U.S. commanders have built up expectations the operation may help deliver stability to a deeply troubled country — just as they did before fighter jets and tanks pulverised Fallujah in the name of protecting Iraqis from being terrorised by militants.
Let us hope that General Stanley McChrystal’s stated strategy based on protecting citizens will work, because all of the elements of another civilian catastrophe appear to be in place.
I never saw the movie Groundhog Day. Did Bill Murray ever escape the endless repeating of that day?
Oops. Did I mention the Brits took Garmsir again last year in Operation Panther’s Claw?