Saturday, November 28, 2009
Afghanistan's complex patchwork of success and failure is all a world away from the metropolitan commentators
By Robert Fox, for the Guardian
At the base of the 1st Battalion 5th US Marine Expeditionary Brigade at Garamsir in south Helmand they have a slogan on their T-shirts guaranteed to enrage Caroline Lucas and Simon Jenkins, two of Cif's most recent commentators on Afghanistan.
"Just do Marja" it reads. Marja is a quilt of small fertile plots just south and west of Lashkar Gah, the current provincial capital of Helmand. Like the irrigation channels that feed the fields of Marja, Lashkar Gah is largely the creation of a huge project by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) that made Helmand the bread basket of Afghanistan, and a magnet for tourism even.
Marja has become one of the big poppy growing plots of the world. Today it is largely under Taliban control, who run their "parallel government" there by night – which means robbing the farmers in the name of Islamic taxation, closing schools and demanding tribute in food, warm clothing, and young recruits for their jihad. It is also a centre for assembling IED roadside bombs, which they lay with astonishing deftness and speed.
Marja will be the first target of the Marine Expeditionary Unit now expected here before Christmas as a result of President Obama's anticipated announcement that he will send an extra 30,000 US military personnel to Afghanistan for the next two years. Squeezing Taliban out of Marja, and then Nad-e-Ali to the north, will remove the threat to commerce and farming along the west bank of the Helmand river.
Lashkar Gah is thriving and buzzing, compared with two years ago, when I was last here. The bazaars are booming full of all kinds of produce, a new line in iron bedsteads, small wheat-milling machines, and hundreds of motorbikes – most made in kits in China and assembled in Iran. Farmers and merchants now travel to Gereshk to the north and to Kandahar, less than three hours away. They say the roads are pretty safe, bar the risk of the odd rogue roadblock manned by Taliban or renegade Afghan police.
Lashkar Gah is at the centre of a security bubble or "protected development area" – a key concept of the "ink spot" approach of counter-insurgency theory and practice, recently retooled by General Stanley McChrystal. You take the main centres, such as Lashkar Gah, Garmsir, Gereshk and Musa Qala in Helmand, and protect them with international and then local forces. Confidence and commerce grow, and in time the different areas link together.
For the full article click here for the Guardian Online