WARDAK, Afghanistan — The most frustrating part of this war is not the fighting. In fact, there isn’t so much of that, besides the roadside bombs and the occasional mortar or rocket attack. The hardest bit is to convince the Afghans — especially the Pashtuns, formerly the main backers of the Taliban regime — that the coalition wants to offer its help, and can protect those that accept it. What usually happens is this: A platoon of U.S. soldiers turns up in a village, inquiring if its inhabitants need anything — jobs, medicine, more security, or even a new bridge […]

Reporter’s Notebook: Jaghto District Center, Afghanistan

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The small Afghan police and army outpost in this small district center looks like a war zone. The buildings are bullet-pocked and burnt, there is a burnt-out vehicle out front, and a rather nasty-looking machine-gun nest overlooks the road. Tired-looking Afghan policemen are milling about among the buildings. The appearances don’t lie: The center, originally built for civilian purposes, is a war zone. The 50 Afghan policemen and army troops stationed here come under attack by the Taliban almost every afternoon at 5 o’clock. The shooting goes on until about 9 p.m. After that, there is no […]

The cliché that you must “protect the population” in order to win a counterinsurgency has now become entrenched in conventional wisdom. This is especially so of the war in Afghanistan, where civilian casualties have become a deeply polarizing issue. It has become so important that, during a recent trip to Helmand Province, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, declared that Coalition forces must make a “cultural shift” in Afghanistan, away from their normal combat orientation and toward protecting civilians. But protecting the population requires knowing where it lives. Here, the Army’s conventional wisdom […]

Afghanistan: The Case for a Happy Ending

Given all my griping about the war in Afghanistan, I thought I’d pass along two recent articles that offer a more positive outlook on the chances for a successful outcome there. The first is by Peter Bergen in the Washington Monthly (via Matthew Yglesias), the second by Fotini Christia and Michael Semple in Foreign Affairs (via Thomas P.M. Barnett). Bergen attacks what he calls the twin myths that Afghanistan is unconquerable and ungovernable. He argues that both can be accomplished with the current military footprint (augmented by increased Afghan security forces), combined with an expanded and internationalized civilian footprint. Essentially, […]

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The new Afghanistan strategy is supposed to be all about winning hearts and minds. But this small combat outpost high in the Hindu Kush mountains seems to be mostly about fighting. The outpost, manned by Delta Rifle Company* of the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, has been mortared or rocketed seven times in the last two days. They also got involved in a major firefight between the Taliban, Afghan security forces and private security contractors protecting the supply trucks heading up the main road towards Kabul. To be fair, overall violence levels in Wardak province have dropped […]

Afghanistan, Europe and the Return of War

What a difference a year makes. That’s the gist of this Journal du Dimanche article by Pierre Servent regarding the morale of the French military this Bastille Day compared to the 2008 vintage: Last year, the army’s morale was as low as its socks: the announcement of drastic manpower cuts, the drama of Carcassonne, the resignation/firing of the army chief of staff, the controversial presence of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [. . .] But what, then, happened between July 14, 2008 and July 14, 2009 to explain this change? One word: Uzbin. (Translated from the French.) Uzbin is the valley […]

WARDAK, Afghanistan — The most surprising thing, initially, is how difficult and time-consuming even the most basic tasks are — like getting around between coalition camps, for instance. I had left Forward Operating Base Airborne — where I am based with U.S. Army units from the 10th Mountain Division and a French army training team — for a short trip to a nearby combat outpost, only a few miles away. The objective had been to take water, food, and building materials to the new outpost. The trip, which had promised to be relatively easy and painless, ended up consuming the […]

U.N. Highlights Disastrous State of Afghan Women’s Rights

The United Nations has issued a blunt assessment of the dismal state of women’s rights in Afghanistan, criticizing families, local communities and government officials for complicity in failing to address a social system that continues to set women up as victims. “Afghan women have limited freedom to escape the norms and traditions that dictate a subservient status for females. Women in Afghanistan are also subjected to the violence inherent in armed conflict that has intensified in recent years and is exacting an increasingly heavy toll on Afghan civilians,” the report says. Intimidation, direct psychological and physical attacks, and high profile […]

Paying the Cost of Leaving Afghanistan

I somehow overlooked Jim Molan’s outstanding assessment of the state of play in Afghanistan in my daily read of the Interpreter, but luckily caught it the second time around thanks to the gang at SWJ. Molan, a retired Australian general, says everything there is to be said for the time being — namely that, rhetoric and opinion shaping to the contrary, we’re in a holding pattern in Afghanistan. According to his estimates, we’ll need to triple troop levels before we break out of that holding pattern, and the necessary resources will come from the U.S., not NATO. That pretty much […]

In 2006, when Dutch forces occupied Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan, they expected to wage a traditional counterinsurgency campaign focused on winning the support of the local population. “We’re not here to fight the Taliban. We’re here to make the Taliban irrelevant,” said Dutch commander Hans van Griensven. An Australian reconstruction team subsequently joined the Dutch battlegroup, to help rebuild schools and roads, and to provide vocational training to local workers. Dutch and Australian troops were working at a pair of schools in July 2007 when the Taliban attacked. A suicide bomber blew himself up outside one school in the […]

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