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Marjah and the Afghanistan Surge

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Burton Shields, commander of the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry of Task Force Stryker, sits during a meeting, or shura, with village leaders in the Badula Qulp area, West of Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. (AP)

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It’s Day 5 of the biggest allied offensive in Afghanistan since 2001 — some 15,000 U.S., NATO, and Afghan troops working to secure Marjah, a key opium-smuggling base in the Taliban’s heartland.

It’s being called the first big test of President Obama’s troop surge and General Stanley McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy. A strategy of holding fire to protect civilians, rolling in a local government to keep the Taliban out, building a nation.

And with the recent capture in Pakistan of the Taliban’s top military commander, there’s hope, justified or not, of turning the tide.

This hour, On Point: We’re looking at the Afghan surge as it plays out on the ground.


Joining us from Kabul, Afghanistan, is Rod Nordland, foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He’s reported on civilian casualities in the Marjah offensive and on the UN’s refusal to participate in the military’s reconstruction efforts there.

From Monterey, Calif., we’re joined by Kalev Sepp, professor of defense analysis at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and retired Army lieutenant colonel and special forces officer.  From 2007 to January 2009, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations Capabilities, helping to oversee global counterterrorism policy.

From Washington we’re joined by Peter Bergen, senior fellow at the New America Foundation, where he co-directs the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.  He’s editor of Foreign Policy magazine’s Af-Pak Channel blog and author of “The Osama Bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda’s Leader.”

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  • http://spettinger@yahoo.com Sonia Ettinger

    Peter Bergen is very interesting as always.
    What is the US doing about supplanting those poppy fields? I gather they have already been planted this year. Surely we have come up with an alternative by now! Where is our US exported equipment to help turn their [and our] economy around?

    This email address is valid!

  • http://z15.invisionfree.com/Augusta_Alternative/index.php?act=idx John Randolph Hardison Cain

    A bevy of yeah-sayers IMO. Nobody is paying devil’s advocate today. Where’s the balance?
    “How Afghans see Operation Moshtarak:The western media may trumpet the latest joint military push, but in Afghanistan it is widely viewed as a conspiracy” by Nushin Arbabzadah | The Guardian | Tuesday 16 February 2010

  • Tom from Boston

    The U.S. keeps making the same mistakes, over and over. We still haven’t learned the lessons from Vietnam.

  • Michael

    gotta love this, a hour of BS to feed to the american public, great job jane, they only need another 5 to 10 to 20 years to win in afgan war.

    check out the bbc if you really want to understand what is going on and not as filter as this.

    and its a constant lie to say the afgans people support the U.S., cant have a insurugency without domestic support.

    Sad you keep having hacks on this show from biased think tanks who have a stake in mantaining this.

  • Peter Wood

    Anything Dick Cheney approves has to be about OIL, and the military pacification of Iraq and Afghanistan are precisely that. Remember, a decade ago Enron was found to be paying bribes to Bin Laden and the Taliban to secure pipeline rights to export Caspian oil through Afghanistan. Women’s rights, elimination of terrorists, democratic governance, capture of Bin Laden, eradication of poppy exports …. all window dressing to cover the real objective, CASPIAN OIL.

  • Dana Franchitto

    THis show was nothing but a promo for the surge and the US occupation of Afghanistan. Just look at the guest list. ALl that was permitted were questions about strategy and tactics but no questions about what the US is doinfghtere anyway. I called up with a commment about bin Laden and just how important was he to US interests. I was not allowed on. THis is waht “bur calls the “complete story”? Just where is the public in “public” radio?

  • http://z15.invisionfree.com/Augusta_Alternative John Randolph Hardison Cain

    The link to The Guardian commentary mentioned in my post above is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/feb/16/afghanistan-moshtarak-conspiracy
    A headline in today’s NY Times reads “U.N. Rejects ‘Militarization’ of Afghan Aid”. It is by Rod Nordland. The UN is not impressed with the “government in a box” the U.S. plans to install in the wake of its offensive in Marjah. Here are the first two sentences: “Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan on Wednesday criticized NATO forces for what one referred to as ‘the militarization of humanitarian aid,’ and said U.N. agencies would not participate in the military’s reconstruction strategy in Marja as part of its current offensive there. ‘We are not part of that process, we do not want to be part of it,’ said Robert Watkins, the deputy special representative of the secretary general, at a press conference attended by other officials to announce the United Nation’s Humanitarian Action Plan for 2010. ‘We will not be part of that military strategy’.”

  • wavre

    I’m not a military strategist, but someone can explain to me why they have announced the surge a month in advance??!!!Of course the talibans went into hiding, leaving massive booby-traps behind.Are we afraid to engage them head on? maybe are we afraid of the casualties that often turn the public against wars?

    Or maybe the talibans and the Phantom of Ben Laden have to be maintained to justify those wars( another way to channel public money into private corporations,another Washington stimulus package!!)
    They don’t want to win, they just want to fight it, it’s more profitable!
    People are dying so a few amongst us can keep playing golf!

  • Steve V

    Without leadership in Washington events will continue to drive all these problems and we will be reactive instead of proactive. We will drift from crisis to crisis in a never ending cycle of dysfunction. Someone once said citizens will have the form of government they deserve (perhaps someone can recall who). What does the state of Washington say about us?

  • cory

    This is great! It shouldn’t be long now before Afghanistan is a stable democracy that is friendly to the United States!

  • Brett

    Agreed! Now, if we could just get them to become a Christian country!

  • Ishmael

    One “component of success” will of course be what the Russians and Chinese think of all this; if their considerable natural resources deals in Afghanistan are predicated on Taliban control, the US effort might be in for some pretty interesting times, as the Chinese are fond of saying.

    The capture of the Taliban guy in Pakistan evidently had more to do with deals made than with miliary inroads, incidentally.

    Hang onto that CERF (bribery) money, folks. Going to need it. Your tax dollars at work.

  • Brendan H. Quinn

    I am rather surprised by the tenor of these comments. For my own part, I am no hawk. The invasion of Iraq was, in my humble opinion, perhaps the worst foreign policy decision of all time. When the US first announced its intentions of invading Afghanistan, I was very wary and not at all convinced that we were going about things the right way. At this point, however, it seems to me that a full-scale withdrawal of ISAF forces, a second abandonment of the Pashtuns by the US, would amount to a calamity (though no one here has come out and said it explicitly, withdrawal seems to be the implicit desire of most commenters). Tom from Boston says we need to learn the lessons of Vietnam, well, okay, if you see these two scenarios as so similar, please educate us; I think they differ dramatically. What about the lesson of Afghanistan/Pakistan post Soviet occupation?!? That seems to me to be the much more apt situation; in fact that was the EXACT situation that led to the rise of the Taliban (n.b., taliban is already plural, the singular is talib, no such word as talibans).

    I trust Dick Cheney about as far as I could throw him, less even. Bush and company screwed around in Afghanistan for seven years and couldn’t even develop a coherent policy because they were busy fantasizing about invading Iraq. I’m still astounded by Rumsfeld’s comments in 2001/2002 that Afghanistan just didn’t have good targets like oh, say, Iraq! (Yes, he actually said that.) It was as if they couldn’t wait to get their toys into a more conventional war to show off how tough the US really is. It was disgusting. Yet this knee-jerk reaction that I see on here, if Dick Cheney is for it, then I’m against it, strikes me as childish and hyperpartisan. (Frankly I think it is what is wrong with our government these days, though that’s another conversation.) If we abandon Afghanistan as we did during the years of George the First, i.e., George H. W., then the Pashtuns, the other Afghans, the Pakistanis, the Indians . . . they will all grow to distrust and hate us even more. They see us as coming in and using them to defeat the Soviets and then turning around and leaving with barely a thank-you. If we do anything like that again we can kiss our already shaky international credibility (thanks Dubya) goodbye. Oh yeah, and lots of Afghans and Pakistanis who sided with us will be killed. Oh, and don’t forget how much of a boost an American withdrawal will be to the morale of al Qa’eda, the Taliban, the Lashkar-e Taiba, the Baluchi separatists, the Kashmiri separatists, etc, etc.

    I will agree with one commenter on here: check out the BBC. US media, even NPR, is often fairly blinkered when it comes to interataional events. I would also recommend anything on the topic by Ahmed Rashid. He is a Pakistani journalist who has been covering this area for three decades, and his only agenda, other than getting the story out, is to see that his country doesn’t disintegrate . . . a worthy cause, I’d say.

    Clearly we need to do more than fight bad guys in Afghanistan. The most important thing is development. If we would spend a fraction of what we spend on bombs and bullets on roads and schools, we would be much better off. If we work with locals and elders, as Greg Mortenson has done for years in this part of the world, we can help the people promote their own security and prosperity, which will redound to all of our benefit.

  • wavre

    We can not leave, it will be chaos( the domino effect crap!)

    We have been attacked by them (Talibans?)(9/11, gulf of Tonkin incident!)

    Denial involvelment in neigbhoring Pakistan( CIA drones assassinations)denial of involvelment in Laos.

    Victory hard to define in both vietnam and now

    The soviets couldn’t but we can attitude. In Vietnam the french couldn’t( Dien biem phu(?) but we could?

    A modern army unable to defeat local resistants

    The public is tired and has withdrawn his support!

    Depletion of the national treasure by those wars!

    Military industrial complex are making plenty money!

    Tortures and massacres of innocent civilians(Bahrein,Fellujah, Abu-graib, My-lai)

    Supporting the corrupt unpopular guys( Karsai,Gwan van thieu(?)

    I can go on and on with the similarities.

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