Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Operation Not-So-Moshtarak

The US and UK army commanders are describing Operation Moshtarak as a sophisticated military strategy to oust the Taliban from their stronghold in the Marjah region. The name of the operation refers to the Afghan-Dari word for a “spirit of togetherness.” But, don’t judge a military operation by its title.

The civilians of the Marjah area were told in advance about OM. They were encouraged to leave their homes for safety-reasons but the occupying forces provided no refugee camp or temporary residences for the displaced civilians. Further, during the violence of OM, civilian casualties are rising - no doubt eroding local support for the operation. Finally, owing to scant provisions, the inhabitants of the Marjah area are now hungry, thirsty and without fuel. NATO must recognize that garnering support of the local population is dependent first, on ensuring immediate humanitarian concerns (food, water and security), and larger, more dubious political issues second.

The majority of civilians outside Marjah are not aware of OM, and those who are, are unconvinced of its purpose. The Afghans have seen multiple attempts by foreign forces to invade their country, so when thirty-thousand heavily-armed troops, with full aerial backup are dispatched to a comparatively small Afghan town, they are rightly apprehensive. Afghan people and politicians suggest numerous reasons for OM: an easily won PR battle to endorse Obama’s massive troop surge, and/or geo-strategic and economic interests in the area. Whether these claims are true or not is beyond the point. The point is that there is no national understanding, unity or support behind OM – and why should there be?

Furthermore, the OM fails to recognize the very nature of the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban will not meet the full might of NATO forces, at a time, place and manner specified by NATO. Rather, the Taliban will deploy enough insurgents to ensure a PR failure for the NATO forces in Marjah; then will pick smaller more strategic battles in the future. We have seen this time and time again: the US in Vietnam and the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

It seems that OM is being conducted with a distinct lack of “togetherness”. Rather, top-down military approaches are endangerisng civilians, delegitimizing the Karzai government and alienating the Afghan people.

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