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Afghanistan and Operation “Togetherness”

February 13, 2010

The Times, like most semi respectable papers, has been reporting heavily on the  “biggest military offensive in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taleban in 2001”, albeit in a fairly passive manner; seeking the insight of military commanders and pro war politicians on one of the most important operations yet – Operation Moshtarak (local for together).

15,000 allied troops are embarking on what is hoped will be the final aggressive push in Afghanistan. The last (begrudgingly labelled) stronghold of the Taleban is the district of Marjah. The ‘allies’ have already crossed into the northern entrance of Marjah town, an area believed to house around 1,000 Taleban militants along with a population of 80,000 fellow Afghans. The idea of a massively concerted offensive like this which is considered by so many to be the make or break of this war should be severely distressing considering it is to be set against a back drop of 80 civilians to every civilian dressed militant. I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the allies will use the restraint they have throughout this war and won’t get trigger happy as they assault the last bastion of the Taleban resistance.

Of course, the allies have evoked a counter measure to the Taleban merging into the population – they dropped leaflets on the area, for the populace to heed the call: “Do not allow the Taleban to enter your home,” with a clear warning of the imminent assault. Perhaps the allies are however, overlooking the fact that the Taleban can be very persuasive, especially with guns.

Major General Nick Carter, commander of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, reported that Operation Moshtarak was launched “without a single hitch”; this was of course after severe bombings in the Helmand area. The offensive did however serve to send the militants into disarray as the General asserted: “We’ve caught the insurgents on the hoof, and they’re completely dislocated,” he said in a briefing at Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.

So desperate, royally pissed off and with nowhere else to run the Taleban will hole up in this last refuge whilst the allies throw thousands of troops at the stronghold and expect them to exercise the restraint you’d need when targeting only 1 in 80 potential hostiles. This should be interesting.

A local journalist in Lashkar Gah explained to The Times that there was a great deal of apprehension and suspicion amongst the locals regarding the allies’ movements.

“The Nato forces go to an area and drive out the Taleban. A few weeks later they are back and the fighting goes on,

“The proportion of people who think that the foreign forces are good is very small.”

Prospects already sound grim and the operation is barely underway. Perhaps it’s because this scene of sending large amounts of troops from a provenly indiscriminate war machine to fight in an alien and hostile environment against an unknown number of militants who are indiscernable from the local population is a little bit reminiscent of another conflict that didn’t end too well.

What is different about this conflict, and more harrowingly so, is that Afghanistan is still essentially a tribalist nation with warlords, not government, calling the shots. This is iterated by Gilles Dorronsoro, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. As with pretty much all the failings of peace securing initiatives, this one will be no different as he told Al Jazeera:

“The Afghan state is just a network of warlords [and] opium dealers – to think that these people are going to take Marjah and build a solid state there, I don’t think so.”

I’m not sure what it is I actually hope for in regards to the outcome of this operation, it’s going to be messy, thats for sure. Maybe, if enough gritty coverage is given in this conflict (of material which will be in no short supply this time) it will be the watershed to this war and peoples’ opinions of it and just like the Vietnam war (gave the comparison away there) it will be lost in the living room, a much safer place to lose a war.

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