Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Relieve Marjah

Afghan government forces at Marjah in southern Afghanistan are under siege by the Taliban. We need to help Afghanistan end that siege and end Taliban dominance of the surrounding countryside.

This is a problem:
Afghan forces are battling to hold Marjah district center in the volatile southern province of Helmand that Taliban insurgents have cut off as part of a months-long campaign in which they have taken three districts and threatened the regional capital.

Mind you, district capitals aren't a big deal individually. They are like our county seats. A regional capital is another matter, and more like one of our state capitals. Lashkar Gah is Helmand province's capital.

So in that sense, losing Marjah isn't a catastrophe. But that assumes that the government recaptures it and that the defenders aren't wiped out.

Mind you, there is an awareness that this is a problem:

The fighting has been going on around Marjah for more than a month and the main road linking the district to Lashkar Gah some 35 km (21 miles) away has been cut with around 12 km of the route under Taliban control.

"We plan to launch an operation to clear this area from the Taliban but they have planted hundreds of bombs which is making it very difficult," said Sarjang.

This needs to work, since allowing the enemy to lay siege to urban areas will give the enemy the initiative and eventually give the enemy a big victory with lots of captured security troops (unlike the Taliban who can scatter after a defeat to blend with the population, the security troops have no place to go):

If Afghan government forces are being forced back into the urban centers while the Taliban dominate the countryside, we're asking for a major defeat. Lack of our air power is helping to create this situation and lack of air power will contribute to that potential major defeat. If the Taliban manage to take a provincial capital in the south, I would not assume that recapturing it can be done as quickly as Kunduz was recaptured in the north.

And with jihadis encouraged by ISIL's terror successes in Paris, Beirut, and the Sinai--along with continuing to survive for so long in the Islamic State despite American and (now) Russian opposition--the jihadis could be inspired as much as government forces become worried.

It's all about who is perceived as the strong horse, right now. So yeah, I'm worried.

This city was one of the first objectives of our surge in Afghanistan, back in early 2010. Let's hope we try to defend that gain.

UPDATE: Our secretary of defense made a surprise visit to Afghanistan:

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Afghanistan on Friday for meetings with U.S. troops and military commanders and Afghan officials facing an insurgency that has inflicted growing numbers of casualties on hard-pressed security forces.

This is a good sign of interest from the top. It isn't shocking that the Taliban have made some progress since we dramatically reduced our role. The question is whether our guys can hold in the face of this enemy advance, bleed the enemy, and regain ground to win the war.

We're uncertain enough about that to scale back our ambitions to completely get out. We should not despair and remember that the Taliban have problems too, that we don't see as clearly as our side's problems.

Work the problems.

UPDATE: Strategypage goes over Afghanistan issues.