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Helmand Operation Planned ‘Some Months Ago’

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, sheds a bit of light about what’s going on in Helmand in an interview with The Los Angeles Times’ Julian Barnes. Here, Barnes asks McChrystal what the general meant by saying the Helmand campaign has to be a visible public success:

The Helmand operation was planned some months ago before I came to the command, but I think it is a good plan and it is well timed, in a critical area that is both occupied by the Taliban and has a significant number of people who need to be freed from Taliban control. It also sits astride an awful lot of poppy production. By going in now we are ahead of the planting season. We may be able to convince farmers to go to alternative crops.

The reason I believe we need to be successful is as we have come in and talked about fighting this war with a more coin [counterinsurgency]-focused strategy. . . . I think it is important that everybody’s watching. I don’t mean just in the United States or Europe — the Taliban is watching, the people of Afghanistan are watching. If we make a public commitment to effective [counterinsurgency] ops . . . it is important we be true to what we said in the first most visible example of that.

So the operation was planned months ago and yet the Afghan security forces and civilian officials needed to follow on the Marines’ gains nevertheless appear to be absent or incompetent. Since McChrystal implemented the plan and here he co-signs for it by saying it’s a good one, he can’t really be distancing himself from it, though that was my first read of his comment. The point about the agricultural calendar helps explain the pace of the operation.

Now perhaps there’s furious behind-the-scenes negotiation to enlist more Afghan support. Indeed, if part of the point of the Helmand operation is to demonstrate to the Afghans — civilians and insurgents alike — that there’s a capable counterinsurgency strategy in place, it would hardly make sense to focus just on the clearing aspect of the strategy.

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