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McChrystal Faces Massive Failure in Afghanistan in Next Few Months

The Afghan population in the Taliban heartland is not cooperating with U.S. and NATO forces.
 
 
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Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal confronts the specter of a collapse of U.S. political support for the war in Afghanistan in coming months comparable to the one that occurred in the Iraq War in late 2006.

On Thursday, McChrystal's message that his strategy will weaken the Taliban in its heartland took its worst beating thus far, when he admitted that the planned offensive in Kandahar City and surrounding districts is being delayed until September at the earliest, because it does not have the support of the Kandahar population and leadership.

Equally damaging to the credibility of McChrystal's strategy was the Washington Post report published Thursday documenting in depth the failure of February's offensive in Marja.

The basic theme underlined in both stories - that the Afghan population in the Taliban heartland is not cooperating with U.S. and NATO forces - is likely to be repeated over and over again in media coverage in the coming months.

The Kandahar operation, which McChrystal's staff has touted as the pivotal campaign of the war, had previously been announced as beginning in June. But it is now clear that McChrystal has understood for weeks that the most basic premise of the operation turned out to be false.

"When you go to protect people, the people have to want you to protect them," said McChrystal, who was in London for a NATO conference.

He didn't have to spell out the obvious implication: the people of Kandahar don't want the protection of foreign troops.

The Washington Post story on McChrystal's announcement reported "U.S. officials" had complained that "the support from Kandaharis that the United States was counting on [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai to deliver has not materialised."

That explanation hardly makes McChrystal's war plan more credible, because Karzai has made no secret of his preference for a negotiated settlement rather than continued efforts to weaken the Taliban by occupying key Taliban strongholds.

The report in the Post, written by National Editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran, provided the first detailed evidence of the systematic non-cooperation of the population of the district-sized area called Marja with U.S. troops.

Chandrasekaran reported that female U.S. Marines tried to get Afghan women to come to a meeting last week, but that not a single woman showed up. And despite a NATO offer to hire as many as 10,000 residents for labor projects on irrigation projects, only about 1,200 have signed up.

The U.S. officials in Marja are trying to convince local residents, in effect, that they should trust the foreign troops to protect them from the Taliban, but the Taliban are still able to threaten to credibly to punish those who collaborate with occupation forces.

About a dozen people have been killed for such collaboration already, and many more have been warned to stop, according to Chandrasekaran's report.

"You can't get beyond security when you talk to people," a civilian official working on development told the Post editor. "They don't want to entertain discussions about projects."

Chandrasekaran also reported that representatives of rural development and education projects came to Marja initially and then retreated to the province centre. They appear to be as convinced as the population that the Taliban will continue to be a powerful presence in the region.

That was not supposed to happen when the U.S.-NATO declared victory in Marja three months ago. To ensure that no Taliban would be able to operate in the area, McChrystal had deployed nearly 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops to control Marja's population.

Despite news media references before and during the offensive to Marja as a "city of 80,000", it was an agricultural area whose population of about 35,000 was spread over some 120 square kilometres, based on the fewer than 50 dwellings shown on the Google Earth map of a 1.2 kilometre segment of the area.

 
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