September 3, 2010

Latest Marjah Myth: "Cash-Crunched" Taliban

Good news for Afghan war opponents and proponents - the Taliban is going broke. US Marine Corps Major General Richard Mills, commander of all Marines in Helmand province, informed reporters during a video-briefing to the Pentagon press room, “We have intelligence that indicates to us that he (Taliban) has got a financial crisis on his hands... We believe that the local insurgency here within the province has less than one half of what they had last year in operating funds.”

Mills attributed this trend to “desperation around Marjah” and Helmand province in general, along with a low opium harvest, adding that, “the Taliban does not have the money needed to buy the weapons needed in order to continue conflicts.” What a wonderful surprise!

Such propaganda from Marjah has grown routine; from the beginning Operation Moshtarak was designed as propaganda for Kandahar. Only days ago US General David Petraeus exposed himself with an embellished report on the Taliban’s”low morale” around Marjah, and Mills appears to have pulled backup duty.

A vocal cheerleader since Marjah’s beginning, Mills initially claimed the clearing operation would take a month tops. Several months into Operation Moshtarak, as former general Stanley McChrystal labeled Marjah a bleeding ulcer, Mills was still declaring Marjah a success. Seven months later and most sources outside America have interviewed local Afghans to discover that the Taliban remains active.

Marjah has improved relative to its past condition and to US perceptions, but the operation was oversold from the beginning and could take years to reach the expectations set by US commanders - functioning governance and local security forces in the lead. The Taliban, though pressured more than before, don't seem to be struggling for IED's as Mills suggests.

As for the Taliban's opium supply, harvests fluctuate year by year and they've stashed tons of product to counter this cycle.

Mills even believes US forces “can turn over a significant portion of security” to Afghan forces in key areas of Helmand, including the capital of Lashkar Gah. Afghan president has requested Afghan forces lead all military operations, but this arrangement in Marjah quickly broke down after the Marines were forced to assume the majority of combat-ops. That US troops have flooded Helmand only to cede authority to Afghan military and police units doesn’t sound likely.

Mills, a dutiful soldier, is no truth-teller and he’s certainly no propaganda artist. Even if he were telling the truth, Mills has given too many reasons not to believe his assessments. Petraeus must try harder now that more people are alerted to his spin campaign.

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