By lex, on March 14th, 2010
The Marines are busy winning hearts and minds in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Which is a pretty good thing, because if this WaPo article has it right, they’re not winning many hearts or minds at CENTCOM:
The Marine approach — creative, aggressive and, at times, unorthodox — has won many admirers within the military. The Marine emphasis on patrolling by foot and interacting with the population, which has helped to turn former insurgent strongholds along the Helmand River valley into reasonably stable communities with thriving bazaars and functioning schools, is hailed as a model of how U.S. forces should implement counterinsurgency strategy.
But the Marines’ methods, and their insistence that they be given a degree of autonomy not afforded to U.S. Army units, also have riled many up the chain of command in Kabul and Washington, prompting some to refer to their area of operations in the south as “Marineistan.” They regard the expansion in Delaram and beyond as contrary to the population-centric approach embraced by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and they are seeking to impose more control over the Marines.
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, recently noted that the international security force in Afghanistan feels as if it comprises 42 nations instead of 41 because the Marines act so independently from other U.S. forces…
They question whether a large operation that began last month to flush the Taliban out of Marja, a poor farming community in central Helmand, is the best use of Marine resources. Although it has unfolded with fewer than expected casualties and helped to generate a perception of momentum in the U.S.-led military campaign, the mission probably will tie up two Marine battalions and hundreds of Afghan security forces until the summer.
“What the hell are we doing?” the senior official said. “Why aren’t all 20,000 Marines in the population belts around Kandahar city right now? It’s [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar’s capital. If you want to stuff it to Mullah Omar, you make progress in Kandahar. If you want to communicate to the Taliban that there’s no way they’re returning, you show progress in Kandahar.”
CENTCOM’s strategy is to protect population centers using the “oil spot” strategy of Baghdad. The Corps, on the other hand, is seeking to minimize the Taliban’s freedom to maneuver through vast swaths of otherwise uncontested battlespace outside the cities as they did in Anbar. They are – as ever – fiercely resistant to the notion of breaking up the Marine Air-Ground Task Force elements in order to plug a hole in somebody else’s dyke.
The Marines Corps boasts that there are “no finer friends, no worse enemies.” CENTCOM is learning what Navy has long understood: They can be damn stubborn partners. And they are well aware of the “fierce urgency of now”:
“The clock is ticking,” Nicholson told members of an intelligence battalion that recently arrived in Afghanistan. “The drawdown will begin next year. We still have a lot to do — and we don’t have a lot of time to do it.”
If the several states are the “laboratories of democracy” in Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ terms, perhaps the services can function as “laboratories of counter-insurgency.”
I wouldn’t bet against them.