Underway in southern Afghanistan. There’s not a whole lot I can add from Washington (or, actually, Detroit, where I’m blogging from right now) to Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s on-the-ground report. Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the Marine commander in the area, is very well respected by everyone I’ve spoken to, and his admonition that “We’re not going to drive to work. We’re going to walk to work” represents best population-centric counterinsurgency practices. The mission objective appears to be denying the Taliban shadow government in the Helmand River Valley the freedom of operations it currently enjoys by denying it territory and providing an access point for the Afghan government’s writ in a place it doesn’t substantively exist.
“Our focus is not the Taliban,” Nicholson told his officers. “Our focus must be on getting this government back up on its feet.”
But civilian resources, both Afghan and coalition, are meager. Chandrasekaran reports that there are only two U.S. diplomats along with the 4,000 Marines. That presence is supposed to increase — to a dozen. Does that resourcing sound sensible, given the objective? More importantly, the Afghan civilian resources devoted to the mission are the donut hole in Chandrasekaran’s piece: the local leaders have fled, fearing the Taliban. Nicholson’s very ambitious goal is to hold a local council next week.
He’s also encouraging his Marines to show restraint in order to build local trust:
“We’re not going to measure your success by the number of times your ammunition is resupplied. . . . Our success in this environment will be very much predicated on restraint,” he told a group of officers from the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines on Sunday. “You’re going to drink lots of tea. You’re going to eat lots of goat. Get to know the people. That’s the reason why we’re here.”