If mentioning my friends is beginning to sound like I’m congratulating myself on my own popularity, I apologize. As it happens, however, one of my good friends is about to ship out to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and some of my old friends in the Air Force ROTC are about to be commissioned as officers, so I thought it would be a good idea to briefly survey the situation facing US/NATO/Afghan troops.
For about the last eight years, the U.S. force in Afghanistan has basically been maintaining a holding action. Recently that has changed with a series of offensives, notably including the battle for Marjah.
Marjah is, according to the geopolitical experts at STRATFOR.com, “perhaps the quintessential example of a good location from which to base.” It’s in the heart of Taliban-dominated Helmand province and very close to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s “second city.” It’s also a religious center and the birthplace of the Taliban.
Not to mention the heroin: Helmand province produces more heroin than any country on the planet. Some experts estimate that the heroin trade in Marjah supplies the Taliban with around $200,000 per month.
In terms of overall strategy (with the long-term goal of changing the conditions in the country to make a stable democratic government possible), the battle for Marjah is consistent with two main U.S. goals.
The first is to deny the Taliban control of poppy farming communities and large population centers, and the second is to oversee the implementation of a civilian government opposed to the Taliban.
The success or failure of the American experiment in Afghanistan is far from certain; indeed, as Bokhari, Zeihan, and Hughes wrote back in February, “the only measure that matters cannot be judged until the Afghans are left to themselves.”
In any case, whether you think we should be there or not, whether a stable, democratic Afghanistan ultimately succeeds or fails, we ought to remember and be thankful for our brave men and women who are fighting the bad guys out in some of the most remote and inhospitable areas of the world.
Semper fidelis, blessed countrymen. You are not forgotten.
Update: According to Urban Dictionary, the term “hadji,” interchangeable with “haji” and “hajji,” has its origins in “al-haj,” the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Someone who has gone on the pilgrimage is given the deferential title “hajji,” although in army slang the term has been vulgarized to refer to all middle easterners. Special thanks to “panzodanzo,” frequent commenter on this blog, for this update.