McChrystal, Eikenberry Do Not Believe Helmand Is A ‘Sideshow’
An anonymous military official was recently quoted as calling Helmand Province, site of a massive Marine operation, a “sideshow.” Someone forgot to tell Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Amb. Karl Eikenberry. Here’s how their joint civilian-military campaign plan describes the area:
In the coming year our greatest effort will be focused in southern Afghanistan where deployment of additional military and civilians [sic] resources will target the insurgency at its heart, in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Securing the most unstable provinces will have a cascading impact on the rest of the country. The eastern part of Afghanistan will be our second priority area of focus. Efforts in both areas will work to protect the population and create space for previously isolated communities and the government to put in place effective local governance, develop the local economy and revive agriculture.
So: far from a backwater. But where are those additional civilian and Afghan resources? If Helmand is part of the “heart” of the insurgency, and the ultimate defeat of the insurgency is a matter of “effective local governance, develop[ment of] the local economy and reviv[ing] agriculture,” where are those elements of the operation? Noah Shachtman at Danger Room, just back from Helmand and Kandahar, files this great dispatch tracking how far from any governance-based line of operation the fight in Helmand remains:
Any fight against insurgents is going to involve some shooting, of course; there are guerrillas who can’t be reconciled, and militants who won’t be pushed out by mere public pressure. But [Capt. Eric] Meador is using a very different tactic. He’s deliberately sending his Marines out to provoke fights with the Taliban, in order to keep the militants off-balance – and give some of the pro-government villages a chance to rebuild. “I call it the eye gouge,” Meador says. “To keep the good areas here relatively calm, you have to go to the enemy and punch him in the chest, punch him in the face.”
Something has to follow that eye-gouge, though. Even if Helmand was a backwater.