Two reports this week have confirmed - yet again - that the Pentagon’s much touted, new and improved surge strategy in Afghanistan is failing to have the desired effect. Much like the silent-surge of 2009 that saw our troop strength increase from 34,600 to 68,000 by the end of that year, this latest surge has so far has only managed to increase violence and decrease public support for the US and NATO forces. No wonder a majority of Americans and an increasing number of Congressmen now oppose the war.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that violence is again on the rise in Marja, where “firefights between insurgents and security forces occur daily, resulting in more Marine fatalities and casualties over the past month than in the first month of the operation, which began in mid-February.” This, of course, coming after Gen. Stanley McChrystal commented that after three and half months of occupation by the U.S. military, Marja is “a bleeding ulcer.” And after Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, reported in late March that the Taliban in Marja had “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways.”
This failure of the surge to create security in Marja - itself only a precursor to the Pentagon’s much more difficult goal of creating a stable and effective government there - is already having an impact on how the military plans to sell the planned surge in the much more populous home of the Taliban, Kandahar. As one NATO official put it, “I’m not sure exactly what happened at the political level above us, but the very name of the thing changed.” Rod Nordland of the New York Times reports:
... the very word “offensive” has been banished.
“We cannot say the term offensive for Kandahar,” said the Afghan National Army officer in charge here, Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai. “It is actually a partnership operation.”
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The commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, insisted that there never was a planned offensive. “The media have chosen to use the term offensive,” he said. Instead, he said, “we have certainly talked about a military uplift, but there has been no military use of the term offensive.”
This, however, will prove cold comfort to Kandaharis - 94% of whom prefer negotiating with the Taliban over our military surge - who nonetheless will see thousands of new foreign troops on their streets this summer. Maybe. Originally slated to begin this month, Nordland reports conflicting sources that the military surge has been delayed and could begin anywhere from as early as July to as late this winter.
Domestically, opposition to the war has delayed the House of Representatives from voting on the supplemental bill to fund the surge. As Win Without War’s National Director Tom Andrews noted in the Christian Science Monitor Wednesday, “Some two-thirds of Democrats who supported the president in 2008 now oppose the president's Afghan policy. The base that was so important to victories in 2008 and 2006 [is] going to be critically needed in 2010 and may not be there.” Already pushed back from March to a deadline for completion by Memorial Day, Independence Day is now the latest moving target date for passage.
All of which suggests it’s time for a Plan B. The “showcase” offensive of our new strategy is failing. The local population - whose “hearts and minds” we’re trying to win - are so uniformly opposed to this strategy that it would be laughable if this wasn’t a matter of life and death for both those civilians and our own soldiers. And the next offensive, far more difficult and far more “important” to the success of that strategy, is being delayed for some significant rebranding. It’s time for the president to listen to the majority of Americans and find a way to end, not escalate, the war in Afghanistan.