“You have to understand that if you don’t do what you say, we’ll all be killed.” These are ominous words to anyone, but to General Stanley McChrystal, it’s nothing more than the truth. One of 450 tribal elders and scholars from the Helmand Province who gathered in Kabul earlier this month, readying the U.S., British, NATO and Afghan forces against the Taliban, said those words to McChrystal, who then passed the message along to President Obama, who responded, “Do not clear and hold what you are not willing to build and transfer.”
Time Magazine this week recounted this story in their feature “Taking it to the Taliban,” which details the plans for the allied offensive against the insurgency in the southern-central Helmand Province city of Marjah.
The Obama Administration has for months insisted that they are not fighting President Bush’s war. Now, it finally seems like they’re telling the truth.
According to Time, the tribal elders of the region “signed off on the plan” General McChrystal laid out, specifically, hitting the province, hitting it hard, but minimizing civilian casualties and unveiling what McChrystal refers to as “Government in a Box.”
These boxed governments are made up of current and former Afghan officials who have been training with the military for months, waiting for Operation Moshtarak. They will essentially be dropped into hostile territory and will be responsible for governing the civilians. They will “enforce law and order, provide basic facilitates, build schools, create jobs, and persuade local farmers to give up the poppy crop.”
The new mayor of the city of Marjah, Haji Zahir, has returned to his native Afghanistan after spending the last 15 years in Germany.
McChrystal ultimately wants to “help Afghans build and take responsibility for their country, rather than depending solely on Western forces to thump the Taliban.”
Besides plopping stable governments into an area that hasn’t seen one for decades, McChrystal is right to include tribal elders in his decisions and ask them for their opinions and advice on how to proceed to win the war.
Because of a deeply ingrained culture of clans and tribes, it has always been silly of U.S. forces to assume that the Afghan people will trust that the guys with guns and tanks are there to help.
Many of the clan leaders are also ex- and moderate members of the Taliban who feel disenfranchised by the way their tribal lands and members have been decimated by a Taliban that refused to sit down to talk, which they see as a step in the right direction – or at least a way to better understand the differences between themselves and the U.S. commanders and what the military’s ultimate goals are.
Last summer, GlobalPost executive editor Charles Sennott sat down with two of these moderate members, Abdul Hakim Muhajid and Arsalla Rahmani, who are involved with alleged secret talks between the Taliban, the Afghan government and U.S. representatives.
Bringing these moderate Taliban members into negotiations was one of the first things President Obama called for and even General Petraeus, who was the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, called these moderate members “reconcilables” because of how important their input and help will be in maintaining a functioning Afghan government when the U.S. pulls out.
Muhajid was the pre-9/11 U.N. representative for the now-deposed Taliban government and has years of experience with U.S negotiations.
“[The Obama administration declares] mutual respect and mutual understanding. This is very important to the U.S. and Islamic countries,” he said to GlobalPost. He added that Obama “will achieve many more advantages and many more objectives in the dialogue than if they were fighting with the opposition.”
Besides allowing trained and able Afghans to run their own local governments in areas besieged by fighting and bringing tribal leaders into the fold of negotiations and idea-sharing, the Obama administration is also using one other hugely important tactic, opposite of Bush’s policy: there have been no over-the-top proclamations of victory and the words “Mission Accomplished” are nowhere to be found.
Cautious optimism is the name of the game these days. While Gen. McChrystal admits that the operation is going well, there is a sense of restraint and quiet hopefulness that reflects Obama’s own.
It seems clear now, even for all the naysayers and non-believers that Obama’s diplomatic touch is exactly what the battle for Afghanistan needed to start looking up.
Part 1 of 2. Check back next week! This article was printed in the March 3 issue of The Suffolk Journal.