Danger Room has an excellent long article analyzing the military situation in Afghanistan. For the first time since attention was diverted to Iraq in 2003, I feel that proper attention is being paid to this conflict and the proper principles being adhered to.:
The insurgents were similarly surprised by the behavior of their new enemies. In the face of numerous and often gruesome casualties, Marine officers refused to reduce the frequency of patrols into dangerous areas or decrease the fraction of patrols conducted on foot, which remained constant at ninety-five percent to the end of the year. When confronted by insurgent fighters, the Marines did not fire warning shots or back away in order to avoid harming civilians or insurgents, but instead kept fighting until the enemy was destroyed or driven off.
The insurgents were also caught off guard by the willingness of the Marines to go on the offensive in areas that coalition forces had previously avoided. When the insurgent forces attempted to mass in areas outside the “security bubble” for attacks into the bubble, the Marines arrived in force and inflicted heavy losses. After a few such incidents, the insurgents stopped assembling in large numbers, which reduced their ability to ambush the Marines and intimidate the population.
The Marines paid compensation for most of the damage, or rebuilt the structures themselves, though they did back a new policy announced by the district governor that no compensation would be paid for damage to
property whose owners were found to have abetted the insurgents. In defense of the battalion’s actions, Morris told the Associated Press, “You can be nice about it and try to leave everything the way it is and allow the Taliban to own it, or you can change some things and actually plant the Afghan government flag out there and provide legitimate security.”
In addition, civilian casualty and damage claims were paid only when they could be verified firsthand. The Marines ended the practice of paying compensation to anyone who claimed civilian casualties or property damage, insisting that claimants bring them concrete evidence or direct them to it. Among the many advantages conferred by the Marine willingness to operate throughout the district was the ability to visit all sites of alleged civilian casualties and property damage. As the Marines quickly discovered, greed and Taliban pressure had spawned numerous bogus claims. The ability to disprove these claims undercut the Taliban’s propaganda and Karzai’s complaints, and ended the flow of compensation money to fraudulent claimants who were in cahoots with the enemy.
The influx of outside elements into the insurgent leadership was one of several factors responsible for the decline in popular support for Sangin’s insurgents that became evident in January. Others included the heavy costs of war to families that supported the insurgents, the repeated insurgent military defeats, and a shift in U.S. policy pronouncements from emphasis on a 2011 drawdown to a 2014 transition. The allure of foreign development aid for those supporting the government also exerted influence, which was intensified when Governor Mangal brought some of Sangin’s elders into other parts of Helmand to see what they were missing.
It is also worth noting that reconciliation had occurred despite the lack of major progress in governance or development. The insistence of the Marines on reciprocity had halted most development projects. A handful of new development projects had been started in the town, but when the insurgents killed a few of the Afghan workers, the remainder quit. Efforts to develop governance capacity also accomplished little during the first months of the deployment.
A. Military successes stimulated reconciliation and population mobilization.
B. The Marines put stabilization ahead of transition.
C. Development aid was provided only when coalition personnel could visit the projects.
D. Counternarcotics took a back seat to stabilization.
Point B of the summary is especially worth noting. Establishing order and security is the first business of government. Liberty and prosperity are important goals, but they must be secondary as they, and all other goods, are impossible in a state of anarchy.