Foreign Policy Blogs

Operation Moshtarak: This is just the beginning

In what will surely go down as one of the most important moves made possible by the American troop surge and shift to Gen. McChrystal’s COIN/Special Operations strategy, thousands of American, British soldiers, partnered with thousands more Afghan troops, are as we speak attempting to dislodge the Taliban from one of their strongest home bases in Helmand Province, Marja. Though the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Registan have been following the offensive extensively since it started on Saturday, it is still unclear how successful it is going so far. Of course, clarity is not something that the Afghan war is known for.


According to ISAF and American military leaders, the Taliban are in deep retreat and it is only a matter of time before the Afghan government can take over control. The former after all is the goal of this offensive and McChrystal’s strategy as a whole. The thousands of troops are supposed to create the breathing room for a huge Afghan civilian administration body to move in and start to produce real results for the civilians of Marja and beyond. It has been reported that after clearing Marja from major Taliban elements, an entire Afghan civil administration is to be imported, along with nearly 2,000 Afghan policemen within a day or so.

Of course, the clearing of the Taliban is easier said than done. Though most reports of Taliban resistance have been marginal, it is unknown how many insurgents are still hiding within Marja’s population or how many of them are safely biding their time across the Pakistani border. This is the challenge of fighting a counterinsurgency with the home field advantage.


The incident involving the death of at least 9 civilians showcases another of the trials associated with following McChrystal’s COIN strategy. Though the US spends a tremendous amount of time and effort, at times causing it to put as one soldier stated ‘two hands behind our backs’, trying to minimize civilian casualties and disruptions, it is impossible to eliminate them all in an operation this large in an environment so dangerous. After this incident occurred, Gen. McChrystal immediately put out a statement of regret and ordered the halt to the use of the missile system responsible for the civilian loses. Though Afghan President Karzai was said to be lukewarm about Operation Moshtarak, his Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak seems to be on the same page with McChrystal:

“Our main goal in this joint operation is not to kill insurgents. In fact, our primary goal is to expand the government’s influence and protect the civilian population.”

Though much has happened in the Helmand Province since Saturday morning, this is truly the beginning of what will be a long and telling string of events.