Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Raising the Pucker Factor

Pity the battalion commander who has to answer a question with no answer from his four star:

Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal , the top allied military commander in Afghanistan , sat gazing at maps of Marjah as a Marine battalion commander asked him for more time to oust Taliban fighters from a longtime stronghold in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province.

"You've got to be patient," Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told McChrystal. "We've only been here 90 days."

"How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?" McChrystal replied.

A charged silence settled in the stuffy, crowded chapel tent at the Marine base in the Marjah district.

"I can't tell you, sir," the tall, towheaded, Fort Bragg, N.C. , native finally answered.

"I'm telling you," McChrystal said. "We don't have as many days as we'd like."

You can't rush building trust. And McChrystal knows that. It isn't the LTC's job to buy the time he needs to carry out his mission. Heck, it isn't even General McChrystal's job. But it is unfair to put that kind of pressure on a battalion commander whose pucker factor redlined at that moment, no doubt.

There is a problem in Marjah, where the Taliban draw support:

Progress in Marjah has been slow, however, in part because no one who planned the operation realized how hard it would be to convince residents that they could trust representatives of an Afghan government that had sent them corrupt police and inept leaders before they turned to the Taliban.

I mentioned that pacifying a liberated population is different from pacifying a conquered population:

What I worry about is what I worried about in Iraq for many years--if an enemy is committed to resisting as the Sunni Arabs were, especially in Anbar, how do you run a counter-insurgency to win hearts and minds of people whose hearts and minds support the insurgency?

I do worry that we can't win the hearts and minds of Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan. I worry that we assume that the people are ready to support us if only we provide security against the Taliban. What if that isn't the case?

And for much of the Pushtun areas, the Taliban are the good guys to too many locals.

And bizarrely, for a commander who promised a population-centric strategy to pacify Afghanistan, this detail from the initial article is just mind boggling:

In an attempt to contain the creeping Taliban campaign, Lt. Col. Christmas' 3rd Battalion , 6th Marine Regiment , in northern Marjah recently ceded direct control of an outlying rural area, collapsed its battle space and moved a company back into the population center, which had been neglected.

Excuse me? We weren't already handling security in the population center? That's the whole friggin' point of counter-insurgency! That was the point of the Marjah offensive!

I was feeling sorry for the battalion commander when I started to read that article. By the time I finished, my pucker factor spiked.