Feb 232010
 

Battle for Marja not only militarily significant

Story Highlights

MARJA, AFGHANISTAN — The Afghan official responsible for governing Marja paid his first visit to this strife-torn community Monday, imploring residents to forsake the Taliban and promising employment programs as an inducement for local men to put down their weapons.

Greg Jaffe and Craig Whitlock, both of whom cover military affairs, said the town of Marja would not have been chosen as a target for a U.S. military operation had the criterion been military significance instead of impact on domestic public opinion.

The primary goal of the offensive, they write, is to “convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year long war….” U.S. military officials in Afghanistan “hope a large and loud victory in Marja will convince the American public that they deserve more time to demonstrate that extra troops and new tactics can yield better results on the battlefield,”

“You want to be able to define your narrative, and we’ve had trouble doing that in the past,” said Mark Moyar, who has served as a civilian adviser to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan. McChrystal is under pressure to show progress fast: President Obama has directed that U.S. troops begin to withdraw in July 2011.

In recent days, U.S. commanders in Kabul and Washington have gone to great pains to describe the Marja offensive as a new beginning. “This is the start point of a new strategy,” one senior military official told reporters on Thursday. “This is our first salvo.”

In the video below, Atia Abawi follows a group of U.S Marines as they engage in gun battles with the Taliban. The Taliban have visibly dispersed from the area; they are attacking U.S troops by surprise in small groups of 10-14 and using trained marksmen. Abawi observes that Operation Moshtarak “is moving slowly but surely. The Marines are making some headway,” while also noting the persistence of the Taliban resistance. ISAF’s Joint Command’s latest update claims that the Operation has made significant headway in creating security for future development and better governance — two key aims of the offensive.



Following yesterday’s reports that 27 Afghan civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike, Gen. Stanley McChrystal went on television to apologize directly for the loss of life. The AP described McChrystal’s response as “an extraordinary attempt to regain Afghans’ trust.”

Sunday’s attack by NATO jets on a convoy of cars was the deadliest attack on civilians in six months and prompted a sharp rebuke from the Afghan government. McChrystal apologized directly to President Hamid Karzai shortly after the incident. The video is another sign of the military coalition’s intense campaign to win public backing for the Marjah offensive with a strategy that involves taking all precautions possible to protect civilians.


Here is the video of McChrystal’s apology, which was translated into Dari and Pashto and broadcast on Afghan TV.

FULL TEXT, as delivered in English:

The Great People of Afghanistan, Salam Alaikum. Sunday morning, the International Security Assistance Force, while conducting a mission with Afghan Security Forces, launched an attack against what we believed to be a group of insurgents in Kotal Chawzar, in Southern Afghanistan. We now believe the attack killed and injured a number of Afghan citizens. I have spoken with President Karzai and apologized to him and the Afghan people. I have instituted a thorough investigation to prevent this from happening again. We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss of innocent lives. I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people. I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans. Most importantly, I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

RSS
AT WAR: Afghan Offensive ‘Aimed To Shape U.S. Opinion On War’

First Posted: 02-23-10 08:50 AM | Updated: 02-23-10 01:51 PM

The Post report, by Greg Jaffe and Craig Whitlock, both of whom cover military affairs, said the town of Marja would not have been chosen as a target for a U.S. military operation had the criterion been military significance instead of impact on domestic public opinion.

The primary goal of the offensive, they write, is to “convince Americans that a new era has arrived in the eight-year long war….” U.S. military officials in Afghanistan “hope a large and loud victory in Marja will convince the American public that they deserve more time to demonstrate that extra troops and new tactics can yield better results on the battlefield,” according to Jaffe and Whitlock.

In Depth background

Read the full piece here. Here’s a bit from the Post story:

“You want to be able to define your narrative, and we’ve had trouble doing that in the past,” said Mark Moyar, who has served as a civilian adviser to U.S. commanders in Afghanistan. McChrystal is under pressure to show progress fast: President Obama has directed that U.S. troops begin to withdraw in July 2011.

In recent days, U.S. commanders in Kabul and Washington have gone to great pains to describe the Marja offensive as a new beginning. “This is the start point of a new strategy,” one senior military official told reporters on Thursday. “This is our first salvo.”

1:28 PM ET — Are we seeing a historic shift in Pakistan? In the latest issue of The New Yorker, journalist Steve Coll offers his thoughts on “Taking on the Taliban,” arguing that “there are few strategic issues of greater importance to the outcome of President Obama’s Afghan war [as Pakistan].” Simply put, one of the root problems for NATO in Afghanistan is its militarized neighbor, Pakistan, which has a historically cozy relationship with the Taliban. Coll discusses the latest development in the Afghan War — the capture of senior Taliban commander Mullah Baradar — and places it in the context of an ostensible change in Pakistan’s strategic priorities in Afghanistan. After facing a string of terrorist attacks last year that killed 3,021 people — including an attack on the Pakistani Army’s headquarters in Rawalpindi in October 2009 — the country’s military may be considering greater cooperation with the United States in the fight against the Taliban in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The root problem in this murkiest theatre of the Afghan war is not Pakistan’s national character or even the character of its generals; rather, it involves Pakistan’s interests. The Pakistani Army has learned over many years to leverage its grievances, dysfunction, bad choices, and perpetual dangers to extract from the United States the financial and military support that it believes it requires against India. At the same time, Pakistan’s generals resent their dependency on America. For the I.S.I. [the Inter-services Intelligence agency] to repudiate the Taliban entirely, its officers would have to imagine a new way of living in the world — to write a new definition of Pakistan’s national security, one that emphasizes politics and economics over clandestine war. For now, many Pakistani generals imagine themselves masters of an old game: to be not so sweet that they will be eaten whole by the United States, but not so bitter that they will be spat out.

Coll hesitates to declare the recent cooperation from the Pakistanis as necessarily indicative of a strategic shift. He is convinced that unless “the geopolitical incentives that have informed Pakistan’s alliance with the Afghan Taliban” are altered, the United States and NATO will continue to have a precarious ally to the east.
Story continues below

12:00 PM ET — CNN reports from Marjah. — In the video below, CNN’s Atia Abawi follows a group of U.S Marines as they engage in gun battles with the Taliban. The Taliban have visibly dispersed from the area; they are attacking U.S troops by surprise in small groups of 10-14 and using trained marksmen. Abawi observes that Operation Moshtarak “is moving slowly but surely. The Marines are making some headway,” while also noting the persistence of the Taliban resistance. ISAF’s Joint Command’s latest update claims that the Operation has made significant headway in creating security for future development and better governance — two key aims of the offensive.

11:55 AM ET — U.S. casualties in Afghanistan NOT at 1,000. A number of media outlets have picked up on the fact that iCasualties.org, an independent website that tracks US troop casualties, is reporting that the death toll for American soldiers in Afghanistan has reached 1,000.

However this figure, which iCasualties itself discloses, is somewhat misleading, were it to be understood as representing U.S. troops killed fighting in Afghanistan. In fact, the current count of 1,002 refers to casualties sustained in the entire area covered by “Operation Enduring Freedom.” This includes, iCasualties explains, “fatalities that occurred in Guantanamo Bay (Cuba), Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Yemen.” This number currently accounts for 75 of the 1,002 fatalities listed in their count.

The number of U.S. fatalities sustained only in Afghanistan and surrounding areas such as Pakistan and Uzbekistan is therefore 927. We are inclined to consider the latter figure a more accurate representation of troops death in the U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

10:40 AM — “Behind Taliban Lines.” Tonight on FRONTLINE, PBS will air a documentary in which Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi interviews and films an insurgent cell in northern Afghanistan. The doc, called “Behind Taliban Lines,” follows extremist militants from Hezb-i-Islami, a group with extensive links to both the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as they attempt to sabotage coalition supply routes. Show airs at 9pm (EST). Here’s a preview:

9:05 AM ET — McChrystal apologizes for civilian deaths. Following yesterday’s reports that 27 Afghan civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike, Gen. Stanley McChrystal went on television to apologize directly for the loss of life. The AP described McChrystal’s response as “an extraordinary attempt to regain Afghans’ trust.”

Sunday’s attack by NATO jets on a convoy of cars was the deadliest attack on civilians in six months and prompted a sharp rebuke from the Afghan government. McChrystal apologized directly to President Hamid Karzai shortly after the incident. The video is another sign of the military coalition’s intense campaign to win public backing for the Marjah offensive with a strategy that involves taking all precautions possible to protect civilians.

Here is the video of McChrystal’s apology, which was translated into Dari and Pashto and broadcast on Afghan TV.

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