Sunday, February 21, 2010

Why Marjah

So why did the US decide to invade Marjah? There is the somewhat Panglossian view from Stratfor:

Marjah is perhaps the quintessential example of a good location from which to base. It is in a region sympathetic to the Taliban; Helmand province is part of the Taliban’s heartland. Marjah is very close to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city, the religious center of the local brand of Islam, the birthplace of the Taliban, and due to the presence of American forces, an excellent target. Helmand alone produces more heroin than any country on the planet, and Marjah is at the center of that trade. By some estimates, this center alone supplies the Taliban with a monthly income of $200,000. And it is defensible: The farmland is crisscrossed with irrigation canals and dotted with mud-brick compounds — and, given time to prepare, a veritable plague of IEDs.

Simply put, regardless of the Taliban’s strategic or tactical goals, Marjah is a critical node in their operations.

And therefore, argue the authors, it makes perfect sense that Marjah should be the target. But if Marjah is important because it is close to Kandahar, "the birthplace of the Taliban," then why not attack Kandahar asks Steve Coll:
Routing the Taliban from Marja, where they had established a vicious and increasingly unchallenged shadow government, was undoubtedly necessary. 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. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban and a historical seat of power. From their birth in 1994, the Taliban have relied upon their ability to move freely between Kandahar, Baluchistan and Karachi.
Peter Bergen is also somewhat puzzled. Though like most other western commentators he tries to find a reason. Gareth Porter figures it is all a propaganda operation where the target is the US public. Have shown their strength and steely resolve in six months the Obama administration can start negotiating with the the Taliban from a "position of strength.

More at The Real News

The US Military claims the Marjah offensive as the first step in their counter insurgency plan. The Taliban are to be driven out rapidly followed by the delivery of a "government in a box" which will provide great governance to the Afghans - flower strewn road to follow. Steve Hynd at Newshoggers has been effectively debunking the "COINdinista" myth for a while - the Marjah edition is here. If this is truly counter insurgency it is not being done very well. Naming an operation against a Pashtun region with a Dari word - Moshtarak (together) - probably did not help in the hearts and minds department. And the folks that the US military is together with are themselves mainly Tajiks - again not a great recommendation to the rural Pashtuns.

The Taliban have their own view of why Marjah.

While both government and opposition papers denied that Marjah and Nade Ali had been chosen for clear, military and strategic reasons, the Taliban themselves had no such doubts. Judging by an interview with the Taliban commander in charge of Marjah, the movement regards the operation as part of an international imperialist conspiracy which renders Marjah and Nade Ali of special military and strategic importance. The interview with Mullah Abdul Rezaq Akhund, the Taliban commander in Marjah, was conducted in Pashto and posted on Cheragh Daily website.

The interview shows that seen through the Taliban's conspiracy prism, Helmand's geographic location gives the province strategic importance. In the interview, Akhund listed four primary reasons which, according to the Taliban, explain why Helmand is of great geo-strategic importance to Nato. The Taliban commander alleged that the US and the UK intend to set up surveillance centres along the border to collect Iranian military and intelligence data. Akhund further alleged that since Helmand is also close to Gwadar, a Pakistani port which is of economic significance to China, controlling Helmand allows Washington to curb the influence of its main economic rival in the region.

Giving Arbabzadeh the last word.
According to anecdotal evidence, Mullah Akhund's views reflect those of a majority in Afghanistan. The conspiracy theory comes in variations but common to all versions is a denial of the fact that the violence has local roots and that the problem is self-created and self-perpetuated. It is this denial that is moshtarak, or shared, by all parties, from the government to the opposition and the Taliban.

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