July 3, 2009 [LINK / comment]

Marines attack in Afghanistan

As the folks in Baghdad celebrate the withdrawal of U.S. forces from cities in Iraq, the situation in Afghanistan is becoming more tense. Call it the "Obama Surge" if you like, but the U.S. Marines launched the first large-scale offensive in Afghanistan in many months. Operating in the province of Helmand, southwest of Kandahar, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, with 4,000 men, is trying to cut off the Taliban's supply lines from Pakistan and pacify outlying regions where the extremists have established a base. So far, however, they have met little resistance. See the Washington Post. Marines are putting a big effort into getting to know the tribal leaders and win their trust, but this will take many, many months. The local people are mostly cooperative or neutral, but the weather is brutal, with temperatures over 110 degrees.

Strategy Page interprets the offensive as being aimed at "following the money," i.e., hunting down narcotic traffickers and growers who provide the financial means for the Taliban to operate."By the end of the year, there will be 57,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan." Also, "German troops in the north are adopting a more aggressive ROE" (Rules of Engagement), which is a welcome sign that their presence may translate into actual results.

On the other hand, the Obama administration recently announced that the program aimed at curtailing opium cultivation would be canceled. They believe it has alienated too many people, which may be true, but can we afford to concede defeat on that front? The Obama administration is pursuing a new counterinsurgency strategy, and rooting out corruption is one of the highest priorities. See U.S.News & World Report. Easier said than done. Much easier...

Military forces has to be a central aspect of the pacification campaign, but it clearly won't be sufficient, and with this in mind, ironically, Obama may be on the right track in Afghanistan.

Pakistan's Swat offensive

No, not "SWAC," but Swat, a region of Pakistan where the Taliban and their allies in Al Qaeda has a stronghold. The Pakistani army launched a major offensive against Taliban forces in the Swat valley in , and a couple days ago they finally took control of Mingora, the major city in that region. Ethnic rivalries dictate strategy and tactics. Pakistan has a long way to go before central state authority is truly consolidated. The New York Times reports that the Pakistan's military success in the Swat Valley does not mean that the Taliban are dead, or that Pakistani authority has been firmly established.

My curiosity about whether there is a "Swat Girl" got the best of me smile, and I found a news item that happens to be quite pertinent. In April there were reports that a teenage girl was subjected to harsh flogging, but the Taliban denied that this occurred in the Swat Valley. See taragana.com.