Marja’s ‘Government in a Box’ Is Empty
Something that yesterday’s look at the NATO/Afghan “process” to secure Kandahar overlooked is that one of the reasons U.S. officials have taken pains to say that operations in Kandahar won’t look like the February invasion of Marja is that Marja isn’t going particularly well. While the insurgents do not enjoy the freedom of movement they had before February, Rajiv Chandrasekaran explores the stark fact that the population of Marja still considers the Taliban to own the night.
The initial calm after the first week of Marine arrivals into Marja now appear to look like insurgents taking a knee to study enemy tactics and then initiating contact. That persistent presence, even at reduced levels, has led residents of Marja to think twice about supporting an airlifted governance structure that, as Chandrasekaran writes, doesn’t deliver:
Before the operation, McChrystal pledged to deliver a “government in a box” that would provide basic services to the population with the hope of winning its allegiance. The box has turned out to be largely empty. Marja’s chief official, Haji Zahir, who spent four years in a German prison for attempting to murder his stepson, is regarded by some of the civilian reconstruction advisers here as an ineffective manager with a proclivity for lengthy siestas and an unwillingness to engage in the nitty-gritty of governance.
In an interview, Zahir said he is doing the best he can under trying circumstances. “This is a very difficult job,” he said.
NATO has come through with its civilian resources. The Afghan government, which NATO strategy is premised around supporting, hasn’t. “What’s missing here is the governance piece,” judges NATO’s stabilization adviser. If that doesn’t change, then the Marja operation fails. Simple as that.
Another of the metrics that U.S. officials have tossed around for Marja is the number of residents displaced by the February invasion who return home. The calculation is that people vote with their feet, and so when they feel that Marja is safe enough, they’ll demonstrate that the Taliban’s momentum has been broken. Only it’s going the other way, as residents continue to flee.