Crusader War in Afghanistan: Operation Moshtarak

The Western media has gone into hyperdrive with the beginning of operation Moshtarak. The US and NATO have been trumpeting this invasion for over a month, and predict a quick victory.  One US commander noted that Marjah residents who went to bed tonight would “wake up to a new tomorrow.”

This operation takes place less than two weeks after all those involved in the Afghan conflict met at various European venues to hammer out a deal to bribe the Taliban, offer reconcilable elements ‘normal lives,’ and bring the Taliban leadership into some sort of political settlement. Before the ink has even dried on the various communiqués that were issued US Marines with support from the Afghan military launched the invasion for the Marjah district of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, the first major offensive since Obama become US president and is reputed to be the largest invasion since the war began in 2001.

According to Major General Nick Carter, commander of NATO in south Afghanistan some 15,000 largely coalition troops are involved in the operation to take control of Marjah, a Taliban stronghold and key drug trafficking point,

Whilst the US needs to bring the Taliban into a political settlement it will also use its military option to force the Taliban into this political settlement through targeted strikes against key Taliban personnel. The aim is to weaken the Taliban, so political reconciliation becomes the only practical option.

Whilst US aims in 2001 were to defeat al Qaeda and prevent Afghanistan from ever again serving as a sanctuary for any group intent on attacking the US. US aims have changed continuously due to global realities but more fundamentally due to its grand aims being stifled by the Taliban. The current US strategy looks more and more as the use of military force to reshape the political architecture in Afghanistan. Everyone from Obama to General Stanley McChrystal have made it clear that the US has no plans to deploy US efforts in a lengthy nation-building campaign. Instead, the United States has found itself in a place in which it has found itself many times before: involved in a conflict for which its original intention for entering no longer holds. The objective of the military strategy in Afghanistan is political and always has been. General McChrystal has even stated “I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome. And it’s the right outcome.”

NATO insists that Marjah is the key to the drug trade, but the region has never been controlled by the Karzai government and the international forces are only now, eight years after the war began, making any effort to install a Karzai appointee as governor. The Karzai government’s Haji Zair, district governor for Marjah, is optimistic that the Marines will “crush” the Taliban, giving him the opportunity to do something he hasn’t actually been able to do since his appointment: live in Marjah.

Whilst nearly 15 000 troops pour into this South Afghan village, the enemy has been defined by

US intelligence officers as possibly up to 150 foreign fighters among the 400 to 1,000 Taliban militants. Whilst the odds appear to be stacked up against the Taliban, they have for over 8 years humiliated histories most technologically advanced army.

This has been possible firstly due to the role the British forces have played. Senior British commanders struck a deal in late 2006 (well before the recent conferences to bribe the Taliban) to secure the withdrawal of British troops through bribing local elders and wanted to use Musa Qala as a blueprint for pacifying Helmand. The strategy was rapidly discredited when the Taliban retook the town with the agreement of local elders in February 2007.

Secondly as Stratfor, the US intelligence organisation outlined “The main benefits of waging any insurgency usually boil down to the following: Insurgents operate in squad- to platoon-sized elements, have light or nonexistent logistical tails, are largely able to live off the land or the local populace, can support themselves by seizing weapons and ammunition from weak local police and isolated outposts and can disperse and blend into the environment whenever they confront larger and more powerful conventional forces. The border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is ideal terrain for insurgents to play off of three national powers in the region; militants fighting against Islamabad can seek refuge in Afghanistan, and militants fighting the Afghan government can just as easily seek sanctuary in Pakistan. U.S. and other Western forces are then left with the challenge of distinguishing between and fighting the various factions, all the while recognizing (for the most part) a political boundary their adversaries completely ignore.”

Whilst is very likely the overwhelming number of coalition troops will almost certainly gain control of Marjah; the challenge is to keep hold of the village. The last eight years have shown the coalition troops have not kept hold of any piece of land they once gained control of. The West should maybe take some lessons from the defeated Russians. The USSR at its peak had 320 000 troops in Afghanistan during its attempt to occupy Afghanistan in the 1980’s In the end the USSR left the region humiliated and defeated. Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, commander of Soviet armed forces, to the USSR’s politburo in the Kremlin on November 13th 1986 summed up the invasion: “There is barely an important piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” the commander said. “Nevertheless, much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centres, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory that we seize.” He added: “Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land, where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”