Monday, August 17, 2009

And how many troops is it going to take to change that?

The close of Dexter Filkins' article today about Taliban intimidation and the upcoming election pretty much nails the crux of this whole counterinsurgency campaign:

In their six weeks here [in Helmand province], the Marines have succeeded in chasing many Taliban fighters from the area. But the Taliban, and the fears of them, linger.

One farmer said the Taliban regularly imposed a tax on the crops in the area.

Another, an elderly man with a long white beard, said the Taliban fighters were sure to deal harshly with people who talked to the Americans.

“We’re afraid you’re going to leave this place after a few months,” he told First Lt. Patrick Nevins, an officer from Chapel Hill, N.C., who led the Marine unit into Tarakai.

“I promise you,” Lieutenant Nevins said, “we will be here when the weather gets cold, and when it gets hot again.”

The Marines walked back to their base, and the Afghans back into their homes.

Will they still be there, in the villages, in hot and cold, day and night? How can we possibly provide enough troops to maintain constant presence in such an austere, disconnected environment? This would seem to call for an ink blot approach as a simple function of resource scarcity, but isn't the Helmand operation sort of taking us in the opposite direction, by clearing an area that we can't possibly hold?

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