Afghanistan — Kandahar Ops Reflect Complexity, Subtlety

CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan, March 29, 2010 — More than 96 per­cent of the peo­ple of Afghanistan oppose the Tal­iban, but that does­n’t mean the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the coali­tion are home free.
While they want the Tal­iban out, they also want some things from their gov­ern­ment and coali­tion forces, a senior NATO mil­i­tary offi­cial speak­ing on back­ground said here.

“They also oppose cor­rupt gov­ern­ment, and they don’t find local gov­ern­ment offi­cials who don’t deliv­er par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive, and they don’t like [inter­na­tion­al forces] that destroy their prop­er­ty or kill their neigh­bors,” he said.

Three senior mil­i­tary offi­cials briefed reporters trav­el­ing with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen is here for anoth­er first-hand look at the con­flict that soon will have more Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers in Afghanistan than there are in Iraq.

Coali­tion and Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are build­ing on suc­cess­ful oper­a­tions in Hel­mand province to launch sim­i­lar oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har city and province. Kan­da­har is the sec­ond-largest city in Afghanistan and the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban.

An offi­cial describ­ing the ene­my said rough­ly three-quar­ters of Tal­iban fight­ers fight in or near their birth­places. This means there is a very small cadre that comes from out­side the area. “What we’ve got is a home­grown prob­lem,” the offi­cial said. It is a com­plex prob­lem, he said, exac­er­bat­ed by ties of tribe and fam­i­ly.

Prob­lems in the coun­try are caused by the lack of mil­i­tary capac­i­ty and gov­er­nance capac­i­ty, he said.

“More than any­thing else, it is the lack of capac­i­ty of this gov­ern­ment to deal with the prob­lems it faces. It is our biggest chal­lenge,” he said. “In the end, the Afghan peo­ple will decide that there is enough capac­i­ty, and it is their per­cep­tions that we are work­ing on right now.”

The coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy stress­es pro­tect­ing the pop­u­la­tion. “We can’t shoot our way out of this,” he said. If coali­tion forces kill two Tal­iban fight­ers, they might have cre­at­ed anoth­er 10 insur­gents, because each of these peo­ple has broth­ers, sons, fathers and extend­ed fam­i­lies who might seek revenge.

“In our strat­e­gy there is a bet, and that bet is that we, the coali­tion, can only get the Afghans to a cer­tain place, and at some point they are going to have to deliv­er on the gov­er­nance piece,” he said. “The bet is that if we cre­ate the con­di­tions – if we part­ner, if we bridge, if we cre­ate the space – they can deliv­er.”

Part­ner­ship is key to suc­cess, and coali­tion forces are part­ner­ing with Afghan army units and Afghan police in the field as they con­duct oper­a­tions. The Afghan Nation­al Civ­il Order Police worked with Marines in the oper­a­tion in Mar­ja and came out with excel­lent reports, said offi­cials.

Offi­cials under­stand that even with the surge into the coun­try, there will not be enough troops to impose peace, nor will there be enough units to part­ner with every Afghan unit. The idea is to “rob the oxy­gen” from the insur­gency in key areas and cre­ate the con­di­tions for the gov­ern­ment to suc­ceed.

Mar­ja is not over yet, but it is going in the right direc­tion, the offi­cial said. Bazaars are open, fam­i­lies are return­ing, and there are signs that the Tal­iban are hav­ing prob­lems. Small num­bers of Tal­iban are actu­al­ly start­ing to come in. “They are frus­trat­ed,” the offi­cial not­ed. “They saw the coali­tion real­ly empha­size com­mu­ni­ca­tion in Mar­ja.”

Shap­ing oper­a­tions already have begun in Kan­da­har, offi­cials said, and Afghan offi­cials are brief­ing Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai on the oper­a­tion. “He has to lead this fight,” the offi­cial said. “He’s very good when you get him out of the palace, and he has great effect as a trib­al leader.”

Part of the strat­e­gy is to “shu­ra our way to suc­cess,” he said. Afghan gov­ern­ment offi­cials must hold shuras – meet­ings of influ­en­tial com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers – with groups through­out Kan­da­har and its approach­es, he said. The peo­ple have to ask for the oper­a­tion, just as they did in Hel­mand.

“We’re going to have to have a sit­u­a­tion where they invite us in,” the offi­cial said.

The suc­cess in Hel­mand has encour­aged Afghans, and offi­cials hope this trans­fers to Kan­da­har.

“The key is we have to be done by Ramadan,” the offi­cial said. “We have to be in the ‘hold and build’ phase when that starts [in mid-August].”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)