Progress Report on Afghanistan's Operation Moshtarak
Determining the short term success of a long term project is prone to miscalculation, but a few trends can provide a rough guide for evaluation as Operation Moshtarak enters its second week.
Civilian casualties are a straightforward indicator. Between 15 and 19 civilians have been killed by coalition fire, 12 in one spectacular explosion that also lit up the front pages of international news sites. A few slips have reduced the margin for error at the onset and slowed Operation Moshtarak to a crawl. The speed of operations is proportional more to civilian casualties than Taliban resistance, however stiff it may be.
Dead Afghans then chafe the government, generating a cycle of distrust between Kabul, Afghans, America, and NATO.
"We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties," President Karzai told reporters today. "Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal."
The attitude of Marjah locals is another factor to watch. Residents are portraying an ambiguously indifferent opinion, not exactly what America wants to hear or have spread in the media. Their interaction with coalition officers, troops, and journalists is colored by the Taliban’s watchful eye, but it would be a mistake to assume all Marjah residents approve of US forces invading their town and nation.
Evaluating military success, which correlates to political and cultural progress, is made a murky task. The military aspect of Operation Moshtarak is currently being hailed as a steady success, with enemy positions swiftly seized and an estimated 120 Taliban fighters killed. Six coalition forces have fallen in battle: one Afghan, three British, and two American soldiers. A bloody battle, but nothing that has shocked Americans or Britons back home.
Yet military gains will be judged primarily in relation to the predictions of US and NATO commanders. Marjah’s tribal elders have advised as quick an operation as possible and the pressure was evident in the coalition's optimism.
Coalition forces, having reached a 25:1 civilian to troop ratio, command swaths of territory surrounding Marjah and hold its market and main streets. Elite air-dropped Marines also captured a Taliban base, although the level of organization they discovered - ID cards, diplomas - minimizes the reason to celebrate. So too do the overwhelming number of mines and crack snipers that exceeded NATO estimations.Continued on the next page