The Model for Marja

Article excerpt

Byline: Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau

American military efforts in the village of Nawa, in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province, are often cited by leaders as a model of what a properly resourced counterinsurgency campaign can achieve. Last July a battalion of Marines swooped in, and although the village had been solidly under Taliban control, U.S. troops transformed the place. Deployed in a one-man-to-50-villagers ratio, they took off their body armor, patrolled on foot, drank endless cups of green tea with elders, and funded small-scale reconstruction projects. By October IED attacks were down 90 percent, and Nawa had become Gen. Stanley McChrystal's "No. 1 petri dish," an aide told the press. In his recent blistering report about the failures of military intelligence in Afghani-stan, Gen. Michael Flynn praised the Marines in Nawa for developing one of the only truly effective information-gathering networks in the country.

But the Taliban tell a different story, with implications for the current campaign in Marja. A local Taliban commander, who asked not to be named for his security, says that insurgents largely withdrew from Nawa ahead of the offensive, after planting thousands of IEDs the Marines would have to find and disarm. Since then, he says, the Taliban have infiltrated back into the area. They stay in the houses of farmers and villagers, blending in and planting IEDs, sabotaging development projects, and targeting local police and government officials for assassination. …