Early talk on the Helmand assault

When the new Obama Pentagon launches its first major operation in its new counterinsurgency plan in Afghanistan, as it did today with a massive assault in southern Afghanistan, there are a few bloggers I turn to immediately.

Ghosts of Alexander, one of the best blogs on Afghanistan, was silent today.  Not sure what to make of that.

Abu Muqawama, the blogging godfather of the counterinsurgency-scholar community, was also unusually quiet.  A post by Ibn Muqawama draws attention to some potentially troubling signs as reported in the Washington Post:

“The Marines have also been vexed by a lack of Afghan security forces and a near-total absence of additional U.S. civilian reconstruction personnel. Nicholson had hoped that his brigade, which has about 11,000 Marines and sailors, would be able to conduct operations with a similar number of Afghan soldiers. But thus far, the Marines have been allotted only about 500 Afghan soldiers, which he deems “a critical vulnerability.”…Despite commitments from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development that they would send additional personnel to help the new forces in southern Afghanistan with reconstruction and governance development, State has added only two officers in Helmand since the Marines arrived. State has promised to have a dozen more diplomats and reconstruction experts working with the Marines, but only by the end of the summer.”

I’ll just repeat my earlier suggestion that the Administration ensure it has all the resources it needs if it intends to carry out population-centric counterinsurgency in southern Afghanistan (or anywhere else).  The lack of Afghan government forces and civilian reconstruction experts doesn’t bode particularly well for any lasting effect from this operation, and it’s deeply disappointing that we’ve known about these shortfalls for so long and still can’t seem to do much about them.

So that’s something to keep an eye on.  Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman, who I also look to at times like these is writing, is looking into the same problem:

The two State Department and USAID officials now in Helmand have been there for two years, so they’re not starting from scratch in terms of understanding the area, which is a necessary trade-off of a so-called civilian surge into Afghanistan. This weekend, another USAID stabilization expert arrives in Helmand, with three more to follow in the coming weeks, and two other USAID employees will accompany Marine maneuver units this weekend. A USAID development adviser is scheduled to arrive on July 7.  By the end of the month there should be 20 new USAID employees in Helmand and Kandahar, though I don’t have a breakdown of who’s going where or doing what.

These U.S. development experts are supplemented by contract and international partners. Between the British, the Danes and the Estonians, there are about 50 diplomatic and development officials in Helmand. USAID programs also employ what I’m told, according to a fact sheet that was emailed to me, are “30 expatriate technical advisors and 500 Afghan technical staff.”

Attackerman doesn’t think that sounds like enough civilian support and, though my COIN ear is completely untrained, I’m inclined to agree.  The New York Times is reporting that hostility toward American troops is growing in southern Afghanistan.  (That shouldn’t come as a surprise.)

Let’s hope that the Obama Administration isn’t repeating Bush’s Iraq mistakes in Afghanistan.

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1 Comment

Filed under Afghanistan, Media

One response to “Early talk on the Helmand assault

  1. Daniil Karp

    Obama has made some inroads in the region and Holbrooke has been a big part of that. But I tend to agree that a lack of civilian presence/campaign is hurting us a lot more than we think. The shift from conventional guerrilla warfare (god did I never think I would say that) to roadside bombs can be, albeit with a bit of stretch, tied to a lack of relationship building between the Coalition Forces and Tribal leaders.

    http://ricks.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/07/09/the_bloodiest_month_of_the_war_in_afghanistan

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