Small Wars Journal

Visible Evidence of Progress in Marjah, Afghanistan


Madhu (not verified)

Tue, 04/05/2011 - 12:01am

Let me make two more sort-of-quick points:

1. First, I'd like to thank those of you that have provided this video and others like it for SWJ (and those that are involved in doing very hard things overseas.) A SWJ commenter recently stated that it would be nice to occasionally thank those that are working so hard in Afghanistan, the Phillipines, Iraq, and elsewhere. I don't want to be too negative and I want to honor that sentiment.

2. Second, the above excerpt about Bono fits into the discussion about the book burning in Florida and related events.

When I look at India Abroad, or other papers meant for the Western Indian diaspora, I see a wide range of Muslim names. I read about entrepreneurs, athletes, Bollywood stars, politicians, artists, and yes, those involved in terrorism.

It is a full spectrum view of South Asian Muslim society: rich, varied, complex, and a part of the fabric of Indian life. I understand that there are serious problems but there are good things about that system, too.

When I read the more "enlightened" papers here in the States, like the NYT, the images are weirdly narrow and patronizing. It's as if it is more important for our high ranking officials to show they are sensitive then to speak honestly about the world.

In a strange way, they are the flip side of the bigots. They empower the bigots because they are afraid to criticize behavior.

If someone in the States burned the Bhagavad Gita and an Indian Hindu mob went on a rampage in India, it would be condemned by the same people that are jumping up to apologize for what has happened in Florida.


Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 04/04/2011 - 11:50pm

Thank you, Jason. That is exactly the sort of book that interest me.

In the interest of intellectual fairness, let me add a few links that criticize William Easterly:……

And you might like the following too:

<em>What Bono doesn't say about Africa
Celebrities like to portray it as a basket case, but they ignore very real progress.</em>

<blockquote>Why do aid organizations and their celebrity backers want to make African successes look like failures? One can only speculate, but it certainly helps aid agencies get more publicity and more money if problems seem greater than they are. As for the stars -- well, could Africa be saving celebrity careers more than celebrities are saving Africa?


Perhaps Bono was grouchy because his celebrity-laden "Red" campaign to promote Western brands to finance begging bowls for Africa has spent $100 million on marketing and generated sales of only $18 million, according to a recent report. But the fact remains that the West shows a lot more interest in begging bowls than in, say, letting African cotton growers compete fairly in Western markets (see the recent collapse of world trade talks).

Today, as I sip my Rwandan gourmet coffee and wear my Nigerian shirt here in New York, and as European men eat fresh Ghanaian pineapple for breakfast and bring Kenyan flowers home to their wives, I wonder what it will take for Western consumers to learn even more about the products of self-sufficient, hardworking, dignified Africans. Perhaps they should spend less time consuming Africa disaster stereotypes from television and Vanity Fair.</blockquote>,0,6188154.stor…


That is a great quote of yours. Man, I wish I could send that to Bob Geldoff and Bono and all the other do-gooders who are all care and no responsibility.

I know this is off the topic from the original piece here on Marjah, but where were all those celebrities before the earthquake in Haiti?

Try and get hold of Linda Polman's book War Games. A superb expose on the aid industry.



Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 04/03/2011 - 10:05pm

Oh, and I ought to add that the situations are not strictly the same so perhaps my quote doesn't really belong here.

Still, money introduced into unstable systems is difficult to track, and so, its effects difficult to discern in the time periods that these programs are assessed.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 04/03/2011 - 10:03pm

<blockquote>Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., astutely pointed out in his 1977 biography of Robert Kennedy, the notion that reforms can be carried out in a wartime situation by a beleaguered regime is "the fatal fallacy in the liberal theory of counterinsurgency, with the United States so often obliged to work through repressive local leadership, the reform component dwindled into ineffectual exhortation."</blockquote> - <strong>Jason Thomas</strong>

Wow! That is an <em>interesting</em> quote. Puts me in mind of the following, which I've posted here in the comments section previously:

<blockquote>As the dictator of Haiti for decades, Papa Doc Duvalier had good reasons--tens of millions of them--to praise international aid agencies for their generosity. As a former analyst in the World Bank system that coordinates such generosity, Easterly thinks it is time to start listening to people other than corrupt dictators and self-congratulatory bureaucrats in assessing international-aid projects. Though he acknowledges that such projects have succeeded in some tasks--reducing infant mortality, for example--Easterly adduces sobering evidence that Western nations have accomplished depressingly little with the trillions they have spent on foreign aid. That evidence suggests that in some countries--including Haiti, Zaire, and Angola--foreign aid has actually intensified the suffering of the poor.</blockquote>

from <em>The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, William Easterly</em>

On a related note, I see from the Small Wars Journal Twitter feed (I cannot seem to ignore the various inanities tweeted at 140 words a pop. I kid, I kid....) that various World Bank illuminaries are to meet regarding a new round of Middle Eastern aid. (The Egyptian army thanks the West in advance for helping to maintain its favored place in society. What do they own? Like forty percent of the economy? I suppose some aid is warranted but the devil is always in the details.)

But I'm a born skeptic and ought not to post around here. Sets a bad example, I'm afraid.

Juan Taco - all strength to your son in Marjah.

Evidence of success will only be demonstrated when the ANSF stand-alone and provide security in Marjah. And security does not mean delivering peace - but having the ANSF sorting out local issues themselves.

Unfortunately we dont have the marines in every Province. Instead and for too long we have had ineffectual Coalition partners driven by their domestic politics, which in the end has made their respective AOs even more dangerous for their troops. Just look at how Germany abstained from the U.N Security Council vote on Libya.

Ralph Peters hit the nail on the head in his 2006 New York Post article when he observed it is hard enough to bear the timidity of our civilian leaders - anxious to start wars but without the guts to finish them...Much of this is not due to the military commanders but an omnipresent media and well meaning civilian advisors with a Western democratic mind-set."

A locally driven solution is so important. However, we have created a national government that reflects the deep seated nepotism and corruption endemic at the local level. But the local people dont feel like they are being led by example. How many local Afghas know who their national Member of Parliament is compared to their unelected Governor and District Governor.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., astutely pointed out in his 1977 biography of Robert Kennedy, the notion that reforms can be carried out in a wartime situation by a beleaguered regime is "the fatal fallacy in the liberal theory of counterinsurgency, with the United States so often obliged to work through repressive local leadership, the reform component dwindled into ineffectual exhortation."



Bob's World

Mon, 04/04/2011 - 8:43am

When one is committed to keeping a flawed government in power, employing sticks against the insurgent element of the populace and carrots against the rest is really all one has. The alternatives are:

Go with pure sticks against the insurgent element of the populace;


Recognize that the flawed government is the problem and adopt a more neutral role that has a focus on those governmental flaws. Ensuring the entire populace has full, legal access to the process and mentor/pressuring the sitting government that wise evolution is really their best call.

The courses committed to sustaining the flawed government in place come from a mind-set inherited through our flawed European and US legacy of Colonial adventures. Liberating the people is not on the table when the purpose of the people is to serve the economic and security interests of the colonial master. Neither the "Sticks only" nor the "Carrots and Sticks" approaches have produced any kind of enduring effect; rather they tend to produce only periods of suppressed insurgent activity.

In Libya we see a President attempting to set a precedent. If doing COIN wrong is hard, doing it right is perhaps even more difficult. In a "no trust" environment, it is hard to sell one's intervening role as either neutral or selfless. Particularly when one has a long history of being biased and self-serving.

It is the burning torch of liberty that keeps the fight in Afghanistan alive. Same is true across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where activity is increasing. I suspect Afghanistan is more a model for those populaces than the other way around in many regards. I cannot help but see the irony in the words of those who say we must intervene in Libya because "Qaddafi is murdering his people" when he employs his military against his rebelling people; yet in Afghanistan we set as our top priority building the capacity of the ANSF and directly supporting efforts to do that very thing. Is Karzai not "murdering his own people" as well??

Words get twisted in such movements to support one's position. One man's freedom fighter is another man's bandit or terrorist.

US interests and values are not "universal" no matter how great we think they are; and certainly how others see us does not mirror with how we see ourselves.

There is a balance point for engagement between how we've approached North Africa of late and how we have approached Afghanistan. There are lessons in the Philippines on the tactical side for that, but even the Philippines are under the same flawed overarching strategic perspective and design.

Where is Hilary's "re-set button" when we need it??


Juan taco (not verified)

Fri, 04/01/2011 - 11:45pm

Juan Taco is my pseudonym for security reasons. My son is presently a marine in Marjah. The only way to win this war is for the locals to want it and decide they are sick and tired of living in the stone age and being ruled by tyrants and drug lords. Perhaps the events in Egypt will give them some encouragement.

Demon Fox

Sat, 03/05/2011 - 4:56pm

Again on my favorite subject: Local Defense Forces. It worked in Iraq and it will work in Afghanistan. Marjah is proof of that.

Sangin is just a BAAAAD place. The Marine unit in that area have lost far more men than in the other areas of Helmand. Sangin will take a lot of work along with the Taliban safe zones north of there.



Bob's World

Sat, 03/05/2011 - 8:59am


Good catch. I recall that now. I got the US part right (and the substantive content of my post), but "parts-heimers" got me on who led the project! (At least I did not portray Marjah as a "city" as the clip does, showing some devastated village in the "before" scene, and then a completely different market in much better shape for the "after" scene.) Marjah has a few market areas, but it is 99% rural irrigated ag land.

thanks for the assist!


Jim Ramage (not verified)

Fri, 03/04/2011 - 11:10pm

Actually the Army Corps of Engineer didn't have anything to do with the canals in Marjeh. The Helmand/Arghandad Project was a project financed by USAID as the biggest project ever undertaken by USAID up to that time. It was contracted by the Morrison-Knudsen Company from San Francisco and was mostly successful. That is the reason that Lashka Gar is known as Little America by the Afghans as it was the HQ for MK Company.

Bob's World

Fri, 03/04/2011 - 8:37am

I'm sure Marjah is doing well. With control of terrain being largely moot to any insurgent there is no reason to die in place over the physical control of anything or any place.

30-40 miles north in Sangin is another story.

Marjah is a rich, highly irrigated patch of farmland created by the US Army Corps of engineers during the Cold War. It is where the poppy ripens first in the spring and is a tremendous cash machine for the locals, for the government officials blessed with this plum assignment by Mr. Karzai (particularly now that the coalition has emplaced a bubble of security over it), for local power brokers such as AWK; and for the Taliban as well. Everyone in power of any ilk makes a fortune on Marjah.

The theory is that, like the domino theory, if we C-H-B one "Marjah" at a time we will ultimately bring all of the major population centers into a state of satisfied govenance with GIRoA. Who knows, it might work.

Or we merely "squeeze the balloon" one more time. Squeeze Marjah and Sangin swells. Squeeze the Arghandab and Zari swells. Squeeze Sangin and Kajaki (backed up against the historic mountain sanctuaries in the center of Afghanistan)swells. Each squeeze shortens the ratlines from the fighters to their support at the same time that it expands (the illusion of?) GIRoA control. Time will tell.

Or we could let some of the bad air out of the balloon, but the control valve for that is in the great US built sanctuary of the GIRoA central government. We don't touch that, because it is political, and military operations fight enemies and don't do politics. But this is an insurgency, and that is all about politics, so who wages the political main effort?? Instead we march out and dutifully squeeze the balloon.

But as they say in Afghanistan, we have the watches, but the insurgents have the time...

jr (not verified)

Fri, 03/04/2011 - 12:03am

Marjah, the jewel of the Orient! Look out for the land speculators, sounds more beautiful than Sedona, AZ or Carmel, CA.

Wait 'til the tourism biz kicks off.