May 18, 2010

Kandahar Lies Already Stacking Up

The upcoming US military operation in Kandahar may not share as many similarities with Marjah as originally intended, but one will certainly be a vicious propaganda campaign directed towards Afghans and Americans. The campaign is already deep in progress, albeit under different conditions than previously thought.

US officials, forced to defend their strategy in the wake of Marjah’s stagnation, have switched from playing up to playing down expectations. Key military operations are said to be delayed until fall.

Yet that hasn’t stopped US officials from defending Kandahar either, given that they can’t afford to. Having already advertised Kandahar as the “tipping point” of the war, they cannot sit idly as the world doubts how America will clear and hold Kandahar when it can’t accomplish the task in Marjah, a town 10 to 20 times smaller.

McChrystal has reportedly raised his battle plan from 6,900 NATO and 5,300 Afghan troops to 11,850 NATO and 8,500 Afghan troops. While this increase theoretically meets the Army’s 25/1,000 troop-to-civilian ratio, it’s still likely to fall short of Kandahar’s practical requirements. Conversely, if overwhelming force won’t work in Marjah it won’t work in Kandahar.

And so when one US official claims, “None of this makes any sense,” we received more non-sense from the Pentagon. They can’t afford to tell the truth.

Like ourselves, Spencer Ackerman of the Washington Independent cited this anonymous official as evidence of Kandahar’s looming defeat. Unlike us, Ackerman received an email from McChrystal’s official spokesman, Air Force Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis.

“What the anonymous US official quoted has not accounted for are the differences between Central Helmand and Kandahar,” Sholtis wrote. “Simply stated, there was nothing but Taliban in places like Marjah; security forces had to be created from scratch, and security imposed from the outside. That’s not the case in Kandahar City, where existing security forces only need to be augmented and security can be increased from the inside.”

Now that doesn't make sense, and we won't even address the notion that Marjah was controlled by the Taliban and Kandahar, its "spiritual capital," isn't. Clearly the Taliban have free reign of the city.

Just ask Kandahar’s mayor, governor, or most locals and they'll tell point towards local governance and security forces as the primary problems. They don’t need to be “augmented” - purely increasing their numbers - so much as replaced and properly trained. The ANA cannot be expected to lead or rescue the Kandahar operation; the same expectation already failed in Marjah. Relying on them to fudge US troop levels and secure Kandahar “from the inside” is reckless, while Sholtis’s sheer manipulation is revolting.

We know he’s aware of his contradiction.

A stunning lack of clarity continues to pervade the US strategy in Afghanistan, with an equal amount of propaganda trying to conceal it. Expecting heavy PR showers throughout the summer, especially as the campaign stagnates, and into 2011.

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