Afghanistan: Operation Moshtarak Lessons Learned

Operation Moshtarak: Lessons Learned - The International Council on Security and Development.

NATO"s Operation Moshtarak, launched in February 2010 in Helmand province, was the first deployment after the beginning of the much-debated surge of 30,000 additional US troops. It was billed as the largest military operation since the invasion of 2001. The planning for the operation emphasised the needs of the Afghan people, and the importance of winning hearts and minds as part of a classic counter-insurgency operation. However, the reality on the ground did not match the rhetoric. Welcome improvements in the size and conduct of military operations were undermined by a lack of sufficient corresponding measures in the political and humanitarian campaigns.

This report reviews the local perceptions of the operation from more than 400 Afghan men from Marjah, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, interviewed by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) in March 2010.

ICOS field research reveals that Operation Moshtarak has contributed to high levels of anger among local Afghan: 61% of those interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces than before the military offensive. In other words, the objective of winning "hearts and minds" - one of the fundamental tenets of the new counter-insurgency strategy -- was not met.

The findings of the report reveal three key "lessons learned" which will be critical to the success of the upcoming offensive in Kandahar: tackling Taliban recruitment; refugee support and aid capacity and deliverables; and management of the grassroots political dynamics.

The legitimate grievances of the people of Marjah are being exploited by the Taliban, who will seek to recruit and radicalise the region"s angry young men. Of those interviewed, 95% believe more young Afghans have joined the Taliban in the last year. 78% of the respondents were often or always angry, and 45% of those stated they were angry at the NATO occupation, civilian casualties and night raids.

Operation Moshtarak and similar operations in the future provide a perfect propaganda tool for use by the Taliban in their recruitment strategies, unless the conduct of such operations is changed to address legitimate grievances through deploying what this report characterises as "non-violent security instruments" within a "security eco-system" concept. This mandates managing all operations (military, aid and political) with an understanding that an action in one area affects dynamics in another area. Additionally, the report recommends the adoption of a new "Counter-insurgency Impact Equation - Balance any negative impact with a positive impact; Ensure that the positive impact is greater than the negative impact."

Refugee support and aid capacity must be strengthened dramatically. Despite widespread advanced planning and publicity regarding Operation Moshtarak, there were, in the end, very little aid or infrastructure available for displaced persons. 97% of Afghans interviewed by ICOS said that the operation had led to new flows of internally displaced people. Thousands of displaced Afghans were forced to move to non-existent or overcrowded refugee camps with insufficient food, medical supplies or shelter. Local aid agencies were overwhelmed, and in some areas were not present at all.

Another issue causing friction with the local population is the lack of an effective or realistic counter-narcotics strategy. Poppy crop eradication - which took place during the operation -- and a new policy of paying poppy farmers to eradicate their crops themselves, undermines the local economy without putting sustainable alternatives in place. Eradicating the poppy crop is opposed by 66% of Afghans interviewed by ICOS.

59% of those interviewed believed the Taliban will return to Marjah after the Operation. Alarmingly, 67% did not support a strong NATO-ISAF presence in their province and 71% stated they wanted the NATO forces to leave.

NATO"s Operation Moshtarak, launched in February 2010 in Helmand province, was the first deployment after the beginning of the much-debated surge of 30,000 additional US troops. It was billed as the largest military operation since the invasion of 2001. The planning for the operation emphasised the needs of the Afghan people, and the importance of winning hearts and minds as part of a classic counter-insurgency operation. However, the reality on the ground did not match the rhetoric. Welcome improvements in the size and conduct of military operations were undermined by a lack of sufficient corresponding measures in the political and humanitarian campaigns.

This report reviews the local perceptions of the operation from more than 400 Afghan men from Marjah, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar, interviewed by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) in March 2010.

ICOS field research reveals that Operation Moshtarak has contributed to high levels of anger among local Afghan: 61% of those interviewed feel more negative about NATO forces than before the military offensive. In other words, the objective of winning "hearts and minds" - one of the fundamental tenets of the new counter-insurgency strategy -- was not met.

The findings of the report reveal three key "lessons learned" which will be critical to the success of the upcoming offensive in Kandahar: tackling Taliban recruitment; refugee support and aid capacity and deliverables; and management of the grassroots political dynamics.

The legitimate grievances of the people of Marjah are being exploited by the Taliban, who will seek to recruit and radicalise the region"s angry young men. Of those interviewed, 95% believe more young Afghans have joined the Taliban in the last year. 78% of the respondents were often or always angry, and 45% of those stated they were angry at the NATO occupation, civilian casualties and night raids.

Operation Moshtarak and similar operations in the future provide a perfect propaganda tool for use by the Taliban in their recruitment strategies, unless the conduct of such operations is changed to address legitimate grievances through deploying what this report characterises as "non-violent security instruments" within a "security eco-system" concept. This mandates managing all operations (military, aid and political) with an understanding that an action in one area affects dynamics in another area. Additionally, the report recommends the adoption of a new "Counter-insurgency Impact Equation - Balance any negative impact with a positive impact; Ensure that the positive impact is greater than the negative impact."

Refugee support and aid capacity must be strengthened dramatically. Despite widespread advanced planning and publicity regarding Operation Moshtarak, there were, in the end, very little aid or infrastructure available for displaced persons. 97% of Afghans interviewed by ICOS said that the operation had led to new flows of internally displaced people. Thousands of displaced Afghans were forced to move to non-existent or overcrowded refugee camps with insufficient food, medical supplies or shelter. Local aid agencies were overwhelmed, and in some areas were not present at all.

Another issue causing friction with the local population is the lack of an effective or realistic counter-narcotics strategy. Poppy crop eradication - which took place during the operation -- and a new policy of paying poppy farmers to eradicate their crops themselves, undermines the local economy without putting sustainable alternatives in place. Eradicating the poppy crop is opposed by 66% of Afghans interviewed by ICOS.

59% of those interviewed believed the Taliban will return to Marjah after the Operation. Alarmingly, 67% did not support a strong NATO-ISAF presence in their province and 71% stated they wanted the NATO forces to leave.

Download the full report at ICOS or the full report, an "about" summary of the report, and an overview brief at Small Wars Journal.

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Interestingly, perhaps, when I raised these issues in March (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2010/03/the-next-battles-for-marja/), the commenters here mocked me for bringing them up. Will they mock this as well?