Just a few weeks since the start of the operation here, the Taliban have “reseized control and the momentum in a lot of ways” in northern Marja, Maj. James Coffman, civil affairs leader for the Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, said in an interview in late March. “We have to change tactics to get the locals back on our side.”What is needed here is a re-evaluation of why we're in Afghanistan at all. We come in and try to attack a town like Marjah, the "insurgents" vanish, and the bribes we hand out to buy loyalty always end up right back in the hands of the those who wish to kill as many US troops as possible in order to make us leave for good. The Soviets found out the hard way this doesn't work. It never will.
Col. Ghulam Sakhi, an Afghan National Police commander here, says his informants have told him that at least 30 Taliban have come to one Marine outpost here to take money from the Marines as compensation for property damage or family members killed during the operation in February.
“You shake hands with them, but you don’t know they are Taliban,” Colonel Sakhi said. “They have the same clothes, and the same style. And they are using the money against the Marines. They are buying I.E.D.’s and buying ammunition, everything.”
One tribal elder from northern Marja, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being killed, said in an interview on Saturday that the killing and intimidation continued to worsen. “Every day we are hearing that they kill people, and we are finding their dead bodies,” he said. “The Taliban are everywhere.”
The local problem points to the larger challenges ahead as American forces expand operations in the predominantly Pashtun south, where the Taliban draw most of their support and the government is deeply unpopular.
In Marja, the Taliban are hardly a distinct militant group, and the Marines have collided with a Taliban identity so dominant that the movement appears more akin to the only political organization in a one-party town, with an influence that touches everyone. Even the Marines admit to being somewhat flummoxed.
“We’ve got to re-evaluate our definition of the word ‘enemy,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of the Marine expeditionary brigade in Helmand Province. “Most people here identify themselves as Taliban.”
That's why the Afghan surge was a mistake from the beginning. It may have worked in Iraq, and more than anything all the surge did there was allow us to save face as we move out. There will be no such success story in Afghanistan. This theater, this enemy, this terrain and these people are fundamentally different than in Iraq.
Declare victory. Go home. There is no military solution to this problem. Afghanistan has always been the real quagmire as history has proven time and time again. We're coming up on nine years there in November. There's no end in sight.
Pull the plug.