According to an embedded reporter,
Marines have been creating a forward operating base “to prove to the people of Marjah as well as to the Taliban and insurgency in the area that they’re here to stay” and hope to bring “normalcy” to the area.
As this makes clear, that idea is to protect and reassure the local population, thus cultivating their loyalty and marginalising or winning over the rebel.
Yet America’s other message is the opposite: to warn the Afghan government and reassure the American people that ‘we are leaving.’
This is partly because we want to focus the mind of the Kabul government, so that it reforms itself and governs well instead of carrying on an abusive kleptocracy in the belief that it will be permanently shielded by the US.
And it is partly to reassure the American people that there is a dim light at the end of the long tunnel.
This is the kind of contradictory posture that such wars often lead to. We are staying to protect the people, we are leaving to encourage a good government and bolster domestic support.
And this amongst a range of other contradictions: we oppose corruption but practise it in order to embrace local powerbrokers. We advocate a strong market democracy governed from the central state, yet revert to local empowerment and tribal engagement.
And the people are also caught in a muddle. They demand better care for their troops, and better and more equipment, but oppose tax rises to pay for it, and want to leave soon but without losing face.
A situation of this complexity may demand the skills of what some COINDANISTAS call, rather smugly, ‘the graduate level of war.’
But to be caught in such maddening difficulty is also the symptom of strategic error.