In Marjah, Afghanistan, allied offensive going well so far
But in many ways, the harder part is still ahead. In the 'clear-hold-build' counterinsurgency strategy under Obama and his top military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the 'hold' phase - sustaining security - is much more difficult.
The US and Afghan operations in southern Afghanistan are turning a corner, marking “the end of the beginning,” but it’s far too soon to declare victory there, according to the top commander of the region.Skip to next paragraph
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Now in its sixth day, the operation in central Helmand province, billed as the largest against the Taliban since 2001, and the first test of President Obama’s new strategy, is going smoothly. But it will take another month before all areas around Marjah and another area, Nad-e-Ali, are secure and another three months before coalition forces can be sure that the Afghan population actually feels safe.
“I guess looking downstream in three months time or thereabouts, we should have a pretty fair idea of whether we’ve been successful,” said Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the British commander of what is known as Regional Command South, in a video teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon. “But I would be very cautious about triumphalism just yet.”
Next step will be Kandahar province
Only when US and Afghan officials believe they have completed the mission in central Helmand can they take the next step in the new strategy, mounting another major operation in nearby Kandahar province.
American officials have been publicizing this offensive, known as Operation Moshtarak, a Dari word for together, for weeks in hopes of scaring off an enemy before the fighting began. And in many ways, the operation differs in size, scope and method from others: including some 4,000 US Marines and British forces and as many as 7,000 Afghan national security forces. Unlike some other operations over the years, it was given final blessing by Afghan President Hamid Karzai last Friday.
Military officials have estimated that there could be as many as 1,000 Taliban fighters in the region. But it remains unclear if that was an accurate number or if it is, how many fighters have already left the battlefield. That will take some time, a senior military official says.