We wanted the truth on Marjah and we finally got it.
McClatchy reports an account of General McChrystal, who toured the village last week and held a review with US and NATO commanders. McChrystal “sat gazing at maps of Marjah as Marine battalion commander Lt. Col. Brian Christmas asked him for more time to clear the area of Taliban.
"You've got to be patient," he said. “We've only been here 90 days."
McChrystal, who promised the clearing phase would be over within weeks, a month tops, responded, "How many days do you think we have before we run out of support by the international community?"
“A charged silence settled in the stuffy, crowded chapel tent.”
"I can't tell you, sir," Christmas answered after a pause, to which McChrystal, "I'm telling you. We don't have as many days as we'd like. This is a bleeding ulcer right now. You don't feel it here, but I'll tell you, it's a bleeding ulcer outside."
He also reportedly said in another meeting, "What we have done, in my view, we have given the insurgency a chance to be a little bit credible. We said: 'We're taking it back.' We came in to take it back. And we haven't been completely convincing."
Not a big deal, few were convinced from the beginning.
Of course this is a big deal and the time has come to wonder not just if President Obama’s surge has stalemated, but whether it’s nose diving. With Marjah down and Kandahar soon to join, Obama will be unable to keep to his July 2011 deadline to withdraw US forces and transfer control the Afghan National Army.
From there he’ll either authorize more forces to prop up a failed strategy, or withdraw and face widespread criticism as Afghanistan descends into anarchy.
The White House response to McChrystal’s latest comments are sure to be explosive as well. McChrystal has just crippled Obama’s surge and will undoubtedly spark anger in Americans, Afghans, and all those tied into the war. We were sold on Marjah as the model for Kandahar and the wider Afghanistan. No Marjah, no Kandahar, no Afghanistan.
McChrystal boxed himself in with his “government in a box,” but Obama had already stuck the White House and Pentagon in a bigger box. And now the walls are closing in on them all.
Ominously, Marine Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills told reporters, "I think if we want to shorten the timelines, then we are going to have to assume more risk in certain areas.”
With McChrystal under pressure from Washington to “start showing progress,” the temptation is now creeping in to “assume more risk.” Who though is Mills referring to when the Marines go blasting in? Afghan civilians. Mills, a front row cheerleader in Helmand, is now ditching “hearts and minds” for good old fashion firepower.
But more civilian deaths, counterproductive as they are, will create even greater pressure on US forces, trapping Obama in a self-defeating cycle. He's bleeding in Afghanistan, and if he doesn’t immediately review his surge he may bleed himself out of a second term.