Victory eludes key US-led operation in S. Afghanistan

More than two weeks into Operation Moshtarak (Together), the commanders of 15,000 US Marines, British and Afghan soldiers claim the first stage of their mission to wrest Marjah in the south Afghan province of Helmand from the Taliban has been accomplished and the Obama administration's new policy for Afghanistan has successfully passed its first test.
British general Sir David Richards acclaimed this good run a turning point in the war on Taliban after two years during which the insurgents held the upper hand in the war. US commanders announced the international force was already looking at its next operation, the conquest of the important big town of Kandahar City.

But debkafile's military sources say that both painted the situation in Marjah in unreal colors; the US-led task force has not captured Marjah, a town of 80,000 souls, in its entirety. They are in control of the municipal government center and main police station, but have held back from going into the town's southern sector which remains in Taliban hands.
From the town center, the NATO force mounts raids to loosen the Taliban's grip on the town's streets, squares and markets and try to secure its main road links.
But the Taliban has not put its back or large numbers into pushing back the incoming force. According to independent military sources, they are fielding no more than 800 to 1,000 combatants in Marjah, reserving their main strength for defending major locations like Kandahar, a town of a million inhabitants, and Spin Boldak, which controls the passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In the small provincial town of Marjah, Taliban have confined themselves to harassing the advancing US-led units by sending guerillas to shoot up their convoys and planting roadside bombs in their path.

The insurgents also trust the local farmers to put up a strong fight in defense of their main source of livelihood, Marjah's broad opium fields, and be actively hostile to anyone trying to destroy their crops.

Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy of "take, hold and build" is put into effect in the palavers US officers holdi with local Afghan groups, in an effort to win their trust and get moving on new economic infrastructure, law and order institutions, education and medical services.
But this effort too ran into surprises when unarmed Taliban fighters left their weapons in hiding-places to join queues of civilian Afghans lining up for US cash grants of $200-300 handed out as first payment of compensation for the damage wrought and the property seized by the Afghan soldiers taking part in the campaign.
In general, Afghan soldiers fight ably when ordered to storm a target or engage an enemy in close combat. But when nothing much is happening except for exchanges of fire, they go off the rails: They use their weapons to fire off rounds wasteful of ammunition, refuse to get down to physical labor like building fortifications or digging communications trenches, and are heavy users of grass and opium. The minute a battle dies down they are out looting the locals' property.
The behavior of Afghan soldiers in war arenas is the worst possible advertisement for the efforts of US commanders to build the local population's faith in central government in Kabul.        

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