July 10, 2009

COIN 101

Shock from Helmand province. General Larry Nicholson, the Marine commander in charge of Operation Khanjar, needs more troops, both Afghan and American.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it," Nicholson said in a briefing from Camp Leatherneck in Helmand. "The fact of the matter is, we don't have enough Afghan forces. And I'd like more."

Asked whether he'll be getting more any time soon, he responded, "they're just not available right now."

The shortage of troops has already manifested itself. During what is assumed to be the first confrontation under General McChrystal's new rules of engagement, Marines chased a group of militants into a housing complex. Drone surveillance spotted over 20 civilians mixed with the Taliban. After negotiating the release of the civilians, Marines entered to find an empty house and courtyard.

The Taliban, disguised with burqas, had sneaked out with the civilians. Nicholson said no women were part of the Marine force and so couldn't inspect female civilians without violating Afghan culture. This story isn't a success that civilian casualties were prevented, but a failure in that America lacked the resources necessary to complete the mission.

Nicholson said he would like more forces for Afghanistan, but claimed, "I don't necessarily need more troops." He just admitted he did; 21,000 reinforcements aren't going to be enough. President Obama recently told the AP that his goals "can be achieved without us increasing our troop levels," a statement destined to become a lie.

The odds favor another deployment next year and how Obama explains this will be amusing. The debate on Afghanistan is still predominately military, a bad sign in counterinsurgency.

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