Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is Helmand Being Quietly Won?

I got up today rather early in my hotel (at a job that has thus far slayed any hope of me posting, for which I apologise. I am hoping to post more) and found a newspaper, perhaps a USAToday, that mentioned on the front page a few comments by General Mills about Helmand. I've heard little else (this limited to some poking around on Google News, CNN, BBC, and Fox).

Mills believes the Taliban have been all but driven out of Helmand. We're not "making progress," we've apparently won, and are now in a phase where we just have to hold and build. Though "just" may not be the right word, there. Offensives are always easier than defenses. And "building" may often mean "bribing effectively," which is not a sustainable practice.

Even if we're quietly winning Helmand, it means disappointingly little of the Afghani government and Army cannot get off the ground. But the US can extend its leverage using the Helmand victory in 2 ways:
1) it can use troops there to train/enforce the army and police, as well as actually build infrastructure, rather than fight Taliban;
2) it can focus its offensive attention elsewhere.

The danger ultimately lies in the Karzai government once again trying to step back and let the US fight its war as Karzai's cronies line their own pockets. The Obama administration seems to have put some pressure on Karzai with its promises of withdrawal, but the pressure will have to continue. The Helmand victory shows that the US can, given time and dedication, beat the Taliban out of any province that the US is legally allowed to operate within. Superior strategy will have to dictate how the US turns such victories into long-term results.
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