Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
Afghanistan’s operation Marjah: taking on the Quetta shura
U.S.-led NATO and Afghan forces are in the third day of their offensive to establish control over the town of Marjah and surrounding areas in southern Afghanistan.
The soldiers were making steady progress, facing little resistance from the Taliban in many parts of Marjah, the military said, while picking their way through a terrain littered with roadside bombs.
Several experts in the run-up to Operation Moshtarak, flagged weeks in advance, have questioned both its military and political logic.
Norrine Macdonald, writing in Foreign Policy’s AFPAK channel blog , dismissed it as a minor operation, more symbolic than anything else, given that the Taliban control large parts of the country and losing Marjah is not going to dramatically change the ground situation.
Others have questioned the build-up to the operation with Registan, a blog focused on Afghanistan and Central Asia, running a piece by Joshua Foust headlined: “Mythbusting Marjeh”. He questions the description of Marjah as an “opium capital” and points out that last year NATO was calling Garmsir as Helmand’s “main opium bazaars”. Before that it was Sangin.
Likewise is it really necessary to describe Marjah as a Taliban stronghold, he asks. “Almost by definition, anywhere the U.S. sends troops, whether it’s a nearby village, a previously abandoned district, or a new area the U.S. has never been, is going to be called a Taliban Stronghold.”
What really is the U.S. logic in going into Marjah guns blazing? The Long War Journal has a very detailed report on the U.S. military strategy over the next 12-18 months as formulated by U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley M.McChrystal and approved by the Obama administration and its clear that Marjah is part of the U.S. resolve to take the fight to Taliban central or the Quetta shura.
The Taliban supreme command led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, long thought to be operating out of Quetta, is seen as one of three main Taliban groups threatening Afghan security. The other two are the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin.
As part of the new counter-insurgency strategy to hold a few key areas and population centres instead of trying to impose control across Afghanistan, McChrystal has identified three key areas :
• Helmand province, particularly the Helmand River valley
• Kandahar City and the areas surrounding the city
• The provinces of Paktika, Paktia, and Khost
The Quetta shura leads the insurgency in both Helmand and Kandahar, and in that sense Operation Moshtarak is the first shot across the bow, which presumably will be followed by a bigger operation in the Kandahar area.
Here is how Jeffrey Dressler describes the threat to Helmand from the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) in this report for the Institute for the study of War: QST is the “intellectual and ideological underpinning of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. The enemy is determined, well-organized, and entrenched in the province. In recent years, the enemy has shown its ability to adapt to the evolving conflict by developing and executing coherent campaign plans.
QST sought to target Afghan and coalition units, mobile convoys, and supply routes, and widened the campaign against diplomatic centers, high-ranking government officials, members of parliament, defense officials, and members of the interior and national security ministries. Furthermore, the Taliban sought to tighten their encirclement of key coalition centers, particularly Lashkar Gah.” Lashkar Gah is the provincial capital.
The question to ask now is whether the Taliban fighters will try and head towards Pakistan as they come under pressure in the Afghan south ? And then the bigger question is whether Pakistan is going to squeeze them at the border ?