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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/10/10

The "Vietnamization" of the Afghan Conflict

Dave Lefcourt
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To the Taliban in Afghanistan we are the enemy. They will do anything and use any tactic necessary to achieve the goal of defeating that enemy. And all who side with that enemy become synonymous with that enemy and are targeted as well.

That is pretty much a thumbnail of what has been happening in and around Marja, Afghanistan the area where the American Marines attacked in February in order to remove the Taliban control of the area and get the local people to side with the Marines (and the Afghan government in Kabul).

The Marines strategy has been to pay local Afghans "compensation for property damage or putting to work men who would otherwise look to the Taliban for support."[1]

But our compensation scheme is being "disrupted" by the Taliban who "have already found ways to thwart the strategy in many places, including killing or beating some who take the Marines money or pocketing it themselves."[2]

According to Afghan National Police Commander Col. Ghulam Sakhi, "his informants have told him that at least 30 Taliban have come to one Marine outpost here to take money from the Marines as "compensation' for property damage of family members killed during the operation in February. You shake hands with them, but you don't know they are Taliban. They have the same clothes and the same style. And they are using the money against the Marines. They are buying I.E.D.'s and buying ammunition, everything."[3]

A local tribal leader, speaking anonymously, for fear of being targeted by the Taliban said, "Every day we are hearing that they kill people and we are finding their dead bodies. The Taliban are everywhere."[4]

The Sixth Marines and Third Battalion civil affairs leader Major James Coffman is quoted as saying, "My greatest fear right now is not knowing if I put money in the pockets of the Taliban"[5]. In some areas he said, "The programs are completely dead in the water."[6]

None of this should be surprising to anyone who has followed the Afghan War since General Stanley McCrystal was appointed theatre commander, hand picked to by President Obama to implement a renewed focus on the war against the revitalized Taliban.Â

McCrystal was a part of the "surge" in Iraq, the brainchild of General David Petraeus when he was the Commanding General of Multi-National Forces in Iraq. Now as the Commander of the U.S. Central Command (and director of the "successful" surge strategy in Iraq) he is behind a similar ploy being attempted in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is not Iraq.Â

In Iraq, Petraeus essentially co-opted the Sunni "awakening" movement initiated by the indigenous Sunni tribal leaders who (on their own) turned against their former al Qaeda allies for their wanton and indiscriminate killings of all Muslims (Sunni and Shiite alike in Iraq) which put al Qaeda on the run in Iraq in late 2006. The "awakening" was enhanced with Petraeus' "surge" strategy of paying the "awakening" members (all former insurgents) which the American press embellished as the American led strategy of "success" in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, there is no basis for an Iraqi type "awakening" movement. Most Afghans are Sunni, including the Taliban, but unlike the Sunnis in Iraq, are indigenous majorities of the Afghan population and unlike al Qaeda jihadists which are mostly foreign Arabs.

Also in Afghanistan's south, the majority of the population is Pashtun, including the Taliban. There is no possibility of a Pashtun "awakening" against its own people. It is absurd on its face. The only similarity of the US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is the use of payoffs to the locals to turn against the Taliban and embrace the American Marines.

It is so typically arrogant of Americans to believe money will buy allegiance. Besides, Afghans are notorious for switching sides and allegiances and will side with the highest bidder for their services but will renege on that allegiance if another suitor provides more compensation.

The whole thing smacks of "Vietnamization", the failed strategy in Viet Nam in the late 1960's and early 70's to win the "hearts and minds" of the then South Vietnamese people against the indigenous Viet Cong guerillas and the North Vietnamese army. It was an abysmal failure (highlighted by this stream of consciousness by an American commander who stated incongruously, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it"). Our current Afghan strategy of "compensation" in Taliban areas we assaulted and now believe we control is similarly doomed to fail.

The Vietnamese outlasted us, determined as they were to fight against us for however long it would take. The same will happen in Afghanistan. The "players" may have changed but the outcome will be no different.

[1] "Taliban Disrupt Pay to Afghans", by Richard A. Oppel Jr., "The New York Times", April 4, 2010.

[2] See footnote #1

[3] See footnote #1

[4] See footnote #1

[5] See footnote #1

[6] See footnote #1

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