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Clear, Rush and Leave – new COIN doctrine…?

June 11, 2012

By Tim Foxley

Ghazni province – dominating the Kabul – Kandahar part of the ring road…

The routinely (and lazily) excellent Economist has an interesting and informative piece this week about what seems to be a “papering over the cracks” operation being undertaken by some of the last iterations of ISAF.  A US presence has been inserted into a previously (and long since) ignored part of the country.  Ghazni province is seeing something of a mini-surge of international forces, ostensibly to clear a path for the Afghan National Security Forces being lined up to take over from them.

The short-term nature of the activity is pointed out clearly:

“Thousands of American paratroopers have been sent to strengthen Afghan forces there and help them secure the road between Kabul, the capital, and Kandahar. But what worries the Americans is that when they begin to leave later in the summer, the people of Bar Adin Kheyl may once more be left to the Taliban and never see the Afghan army again…Such is the pace of withdrawal that the 1st Brigade of the American army’s 82nd Airborne Division reached Ghazni only three months ago, but already its commanders must think of departure.  As early as August, they expect to be replaced by a force a fraction of the size.”

After much counter-insurgency experience has been painfully won in Afghanistan, the article suggests that “success” of operations, in this case, at least, is still measured by the Taliban’s unwillingness to stick around and get blown up:

“American commanders claim that much has changed since the arrival of their paratroopers. Their bases are still hit by mortars, and patrols are ambushed, but the number of bombs found on the highway has fallen sharply. The Americans say Taliban leaders fled before the onslaught into the mountains or neighbouring provinces. (There they maintain the ability to strike: on June 6th the Taliban claimed responsibility for suicide-bombs that killed at least 22 people at a bazaar near the city of Kandahar.)”

Progress there may well be – this month.  But we seem to be well past the hugely resourced “government in a box” promises of ISAF surge efforts into Marjah in 2010.  Once again it seems that the Afghan population are unlikely to be fooled by promises and flurries of activity – they will wait and see what ISAF does, then they will watch ISAF leave, then they will see what the ANSF does (particularly as the ISAF mentoring spotlight and resources dry up) and only then will they make a judgement call about who really runs the security in Ghazni.

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