Afghan withdrawal would be folly

Quite a good article by Robert Fox in today's Guardian.

Afghan withdrawal would be folly
Afghanistan's complex patchwork of success and failure is all a world away from the metropolitan commentators

A snip from the article which chimes with my own recent experience about the need for more boots on the ground:

Almost all generalisations from the pundits and panjandrums in London, Washington an all points north seem vapid before the complexity of the facts here on the ground.

This struck most forcibly when yesterday I visited Nawa, between Lashkar Gah and Garmsir. It's not so much a one-horse town as a one-ditch town, with its bazaar strung out on a dirt and tarmac track alongside a slow-running, but remarkably clear irrigation ditch.

Until June the place was home to 60 British soldiers training a company of Afghan army troops. They were holed up in the barracks where they exchanged fire with Taliban in the surrounding orchards and bazaar on a daily basis. Last July the US marines arrived, staked out the place with a company of 300 troops, and a fortnight later drove the Taliban off with a full battalion attack of more than 1000 ground forces with air and helicopter support.

Today the bazaar is booming. On the eve of Eid, the festival of joy and celebration at the end of the hajj, more than 80 shops were open – the Taliban had closed all but about six – selling fresh fruit, sweets, mobile phones, and the electricity from a sun panel to power them. The township has its own community council. But seven weeks ago the Taliban kidnapped its head, then executed him out in the desert, and shot two other councillors in their office. At first the rest of the council stayed away, but lately most meetings get a quorum of 25 out of the remaining 42.

"Every day of peace is like Eid," Haj Mohammed Khan, the clerk to the council told me. He continued:

The marines brought peace because the British didn't have the numbers. If you go away again, the violence will be much worse. There will be a disaster, the world will come here again to fight in a really big war.
You left twice before – and let in the mujahideen and what came after. This time it will be far worse.

His words had a strange echo from Captain Brian Huysman of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 5th Marines, whose 70 men are helping the rebuilding and renovation of the council offices and barracks at Nawa. He was asked by a colleague to compare his experience of Helmand with two tours in Iraq at Fallujah and then running a community centre for five months of 2005 in Ramadi ("a complete failure" in his words). He said:

At least I get the feeling we're winning, which I didn't there. The answer is in the approach to the people, getting in among the people, and here we eat in the bazaar every day. Get the approach right and then the force numbers right, that's the key.

"Yes, and that's the way we will be doing things for the next 15 or 20 years, and it's what every grunt and general needs to learn now," added his colleague Major Val Jackson, a US marines civil affairs officer.
Yep, a withdrawal would be total folly. Whilst our soldiers are dying for a country that has nothing to do with us, thousands of young Afghans are here drawing benefits.


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