"As Marines and soldiers marched into the area, several hundred more swooped out of the sky in helicopters into Marja itself. There did not appear to be any resistance, although a ground assault with more soldiers concentrated within the city was expected to begin within hours.
“The message for the Taliban is: It will be easy, or it will be hard, but we are coming,” Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the commander of the United States Marines in Helmand Province, told the men of Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines before the operation began. “At the end of the day, the Afghan flag will be over Marja.”
The operation, dubbed Moshtrarak , which means “together” in Dari, is the largest offensive military operation since the American-led coalition invaded the country in 2001. Its aim to flush the Taliban out of a huge area — about 75 square miles — where insurgents have been staging attacks, building bombs and processing the opium that pays for their war." NY Times
The marine commander at the 2nd Battle of Fallujah in Iraq made the argument that the outcome had settled the war and that the insurgency was over. His men had carried the day. The insurgents no longer had a sanctuary. The war would soon be over as the insurgents came to recognize their defeat. In fact, none of that was true. The marine general was simply "mirror imaging" what his own feelings would have been in a similar situation. In fact, the corner was turned in Iraq when a handful of Army and marine officers and sergeants took matters into their own hands and responded to "feelers" from insurgent leaders who wanted to change sides. They wanted to do that not because they had been defeated at Fallujah, but rather because the Al-Qa'ida in Iraq sought to impose so extreme a version of Islam that the Sunni and secular Shia insurgents found it preferable to align themselves with the coalition rather than submit to the fanatics. The troop surge in the Baghdad area? Helpful in sorting out neighborhoods, helpful in backing up the efforts of the "Sons of Iraq," but definitely a sideshow.
Now the marines are once again following their instinct to seek a decisive battle. The Taliban in Helmand, whoever they are, have provided the marines with a satisfactory objective that can be expressed in terrain to be seized and held. The US Marine Corps is an amphibious assault force at its core. It wants to fight a decisive battle. The marine commander in Helmand is saying things that are eerily familiar from the time of Fallujah. He is saying that victory at Marja ill be decisive in that the insurgents will have no base, no redoubt area, in Iraq. We will see if that is true.
If it is not true, then it seems unlikely that the American electorate will allow the time that would be required to apply the kind of methods that did work in Iraq.
Fallujah would have been decisive if the Anbar Awakening had not occurred.
The outcome at Marja will be decisive. pl
Last night we watched the HBO film "Battle for Marjah." It is well done. The story of the marine assault into this agricultural region is well told. Nevertheless, the overall impression is one of futility. pl
Have not we been here before? Yes, that is what you have pointed out in this post.
Charlie Wilson passed away this week. After the Russians left Afghanistan, he argued for money for schools, sheep, etc. to get the place back on its feet.
In your opinion, sir, would that have made a difference as to where we are now?
One other military force in history was obsessed with fighting “decisive battles,” but they weren’t given such until their adversaries decided to fight them on their own terms. That force, of course, was the Imperial Japanese Navy in World War II. Having fought and beaten them, one might think the Marines should have learned that the other side has a hand in deciding when, where, and how “decisive” battles will be…
Unless you are willing to work for generations and spend a lot of money such problems yield little to foreign interventions. The Afghans are not looking to be “improved.”
They like themselves. pl
Thank you for the response.
I started laughing because I’ve been reading about irrigation projects from the 50s and 60s by the US in Marja.
I don’t know. I’m sure the “Battle for Marjah” will be won decisevely by our guys,but from what I understand, we’re only throwing a couple 1000 troops into this battle, why couldn’t we have done this sooner and what are the other 178,000 troops there for?
There is zero strategic value to Marja. It is not a city, not even a town. (Any report claiming such is bogus.)
Marja was created in the 50s/60s by a U.S. development racket that left the Afghan state deep in debt.
Some 5000 dispersed compounds on two/three acres of land each and a lot of irrigation canals that will be destroyed when the Marines drive over them.
Meanwhile Kandahar is still in Taliban hands as is the road from Kandahar to Kabul. Those are strategic assets.
This whole show is laughable but, unfortunately not funny.
I’ve got the USAID precursor organization’s manuals from the 50s and 60s (and the 80s) for what to do in Helmand – the water project, the road network, rail lines, everything linking up to the new airport being built in Kabul. Aside from the fact that the pictures are in black and white, and the language reads like it was written by whoever wrote the copy for the WW II news reels that used to play at movies, they line up very nicely with the proposals for what is being proposed to be done in Afghanistan today. Also, if you haven’t done so, read the book “Charlie Wilson’s War” that the movie was adapted from. They left a lot out of the movie for the variety of usual reasons, but one of the big things that didn’t make the adaption was the greasing of the armament wheels by the Reagan Administration for General Zia in Pakistan and how that is still reverberating throughout the region.
Not to sound too anti-colonial, but I want to follow on to COL (ret) Lang’s remark about the fact that the Afghan’s “like themselves”. The question we, as Americans, should be having in our discussions about what to do in Afghanistan or Iraq or anywhere else is: 1) what can we do that is in our interest? and 2) what can we do, if it is in our interest to do something, that is in line with the best interests of Iraqis or Afghans or Haitians? and 3) How can we do whatever it is that we’ll do, if we decide it is in our interest to do something, that achieves those goals while doing a minimum of damage? Just to define our or American interests – this doesn’t have to be simply parochial or what’s best for Americans or the US economy, it could and should mean sometimes recognizing moral obligations to assist with catastrophes like in Haiti. That said when considering these a very close and very good reading of past interventions, why and for what reasons they took place, who actually benefited, and how they were done needs to be kept in mind. Far too often development or stabilization programs make things far worse largely because I really don’t think the policy makers really understand the multitude of conceptual and practical moving parts at work and can’t set aside the short term interests of the constituencies clamoring for the intervention.
A good example of this, or as COL (ret) Lang emphasized about the “Afghans liking themselves” is the security force training. The mission objective is popularly presented as “we need to teach the Afghans to fight”. If there’s one thing that anyone and everyone who has ever encountered Afghans (in all their various socio-cultural groups) say is that the Afghans know how to fight. This then changes the dynamic. The mission end state should be (and my guess, though I have no special knowledge, that it really is): 1) Afghan military or police units trained to function as a cohesive group responsive to orders from higher and 2) Afghan military or police units oriented in their allegiance not to their individual socio-cultural groups, but rather to the Afghan state and the entire Afghan people. The issue then becomes does trying to achieve these two goals amount to us trying to change the Afghans, which is not something that will ever happen as a result of external pressure. Or at least it won’t be a permanent change. If not, then its potentially doable.
Bill, the tip of the spear very thin. The number available for offensive action will always be small further limited by the need to hold and secure ground.
The other issue is the Taliban. It’s unlikely that that they’ll stand and fight coalition forces. The last time Taliban massed in any size was back in 06 (?) when they attempted to expel the Canadians from Kandahar.
Air support just devastated the Talibs.
How big a proportion of Afghanistan (or even just the part predominantly inhabited by Pashtuns) is 75 square miles? If there are ten or even just five thousand Taliban insurgents scattered over hundreds or even thousands of square miles of the country, what good are a few thousand Marines occupying one city and the surrounding area? It only takes one Taliban to detonate a suicide bomb and possibly take out several US servicemembers, if not a good chunk of a whole convoy. This is very discouraging, like virtually everything nowadays, it seems.
Apropos of my previous comment, see the excerpt below from Juan Cole’s blog:
(Hundreds of miles to the east of Marjah, a suicide bomber wearing an Afghan police uniform wounded 5 US troops when he detonated his payload on Friday.)
Best of luck to them, even if the long term strategy may be flawed.
I dont know what it is about these military adventures that make me feel unamerican to be associated with them, the thought that these military interventions or invasions are part of the america i grew up admiring and being proud off as a kid rather repulse me now.
Now the marines are once again following their instinct to seek a decisive battle.
It’s more than instinct. It is what they train themselves to do at Quantico. Decisive battle is the holy grail for field grade Marine officers. And you’re right, they think they’ve won many of them in the past few decades.
I wonder tho’ were there any voices of caution like we heard from USMC leaders ahead of the FIRST Fallujah fight in April 2004? Remember, until some mercenaries got themselves killed and strung up? I recall the Marines were all about working with the good folks of Fallujah to root out the insurgents making it hard on everyone.
After their repulse in April though, the November 2004 re-engagement was destined to be about revenge.
“a U.S. development racket that left the Afghan state deep in debt.”
That is unfair.
nobody has ever expected that credits advanced in USAID projects will be repaid.
Could you please explain what you mean by “decisive” – both for Fallujah and for Marja?
I may be missing you point.
Everything I’ve read here (and at Informed Comment) speaks of asymmetrical theatres in both countries.
Wouldn’t that suggest “decisiveness” is illusion?
Thanks as always.
The US command and government have made the offensive in the Marja district “decisive.” Why? Simple. The struggle for Afghanistan is being decided in the minds of the American people.
“Assymetric warfare” will never defeat the United States, but CNN and MSNBC reporting that is focussed on the “4 phase battle for Marja” will defeat McChrystal if is perceived by the general run of Americans that it is not possible to “pacify” such a place and make the
Karzai government’s writ run there. Much is being made of the increased participation of Afghan Army soldiers in this operation. What is not being said is that these men are mostly not Pushtuns like the inhabitants of the Marja District. They are mostly Tajiks, ancient rivals of the Pushtuns.
The Cronkite shift in public relations defeated us in Vietnam. BOHICA. pl
Off post but wondering PL if you saw obit of General Weyand?
“That’s what they train for at Quantico.” Yes, and the question should be asked why the United States maintains a separate second army devoted to that task. That second army is much larger than the whole British Army.
The marines are devoted to amphibious warfare. One must ask, what’s the chance that there will ever be another big amphibious operation?
This orientation towards the amphibious mission gives the US Marine Corps an inclination towards the mind set that is supposedly needed to make frontal, opposed beach landings. It remains to be seen how well that mind set “fits” with the present world and the new marine participation in special operations. Gates has demanded that they take part in SOF. They have not been eager for the task. pl
I never knew Weyand, but my long gone doctor, Les Upton, was his physician and friend and swore he was a great man and a fine gentleman. pl
Cronkite simply expressed the recognition by the segment of society that produces tangible goods that the political/military class could, and would, spend every bit of surplus produced over the next 20 years in a futile effort to do whatever it was they think they were doing.
The Middle East will be no different. If they couldn’t occupy and hold a smaller place like Vietnam they have no hope of occupying and holding Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. MSNBC and/or CNN won’t be the ones doing the shifting, they’ll just be reacting to the shift that has already occurred.
@pl – “That is unfair.
nobody has ever expected that credits advanced in USAID projects will be repaid.”
The problem wasn’t USAID loans that had to be repaid.
Thanks to the incompetence and greed of the Texan company running the Helmand Valley Project (HAVA) the USAID plans/credits were not enough and left unfinished projects and other problems for the state. The king than had to take out huge foreign loans to get at least some of the problems fixed.
Additionally there were lots of screw ups. Imported wheat seed that had higher yield but was not drought resistant led to hunger.
A rising watertable from the canal projects brought salt up to the upper soil and made the land unusable.
Eventually the screw ups of the HAVA project was a reason for the communist takeover.
There are two interesting papers about this available here.
There are also two more recent papers (2007, 2009) about the more current screw ups in the anti-narcotics projects in Helmand at that link.
Yes, but without the information passed to the people by the media there would be no shift in public opinion. pl
Thank you for your explanation. I’ll read “Charlie Wilson’s War”. I saw the movie the same week Benazir Bhutto was killed. That event dredged up a lot of history.
Ups – mistake
The HAVA company was from Idaho (Morrison-Knutsen Construction) not from Texas.
Pat wrote: The marines are devoted to amphibious warfare. One must ask, what’s the chance that there will ever be another big amphibious operation?
Between WWII and Korea the same question was being aggressively asked by budget cutters who were seeing the Marine’s amphibious capability as increasingly irrelevant in the atomic age
I was hesitating about weighing in with well deserved thanks for you and Adam Silverman for your clear and convincing explication of events both historical and currently transpiring in Afghanistan (and to a certain degree, in the greater Middle East and Southwest Asia)…
… but your argument that “without the information passed to the people by the media there would be no shift in public opinion” regarding the American involvement in Vietnam as of 1968 ignores the simply reality that the dynamic between the media and the public is not a simple product of a unidirectional cause-and-effect. I presume, for example, that you are not suggesting that the growing number of compelling testimonies from returning combatants was not undermining public confidence in the effort just as much as their interpretation by the professional media.
I would not for a moment question the idea that the effort in conflicts such as the one in Vietnam could not have been managed more intelligently from their outset and at various stages along the way (and in this specific case, at the end of the Second World War…). Nor do I doubt that some unconventional endeavors such as those in which you participated were essentially successful when compared with the traditional methods employed by the military en masse. What I will say, with the utmost respect, is that it is my sincere opinion that you and your comrades in arms were ordered to perform an impossible task… but the afterthought that the goal was unattainable does not diminish the valor expressed in the effort itself…
All I will add is that your recent analyses of both Iraq and Afghanistan leave me pessimistic but still hopeful that enough of a margin was created for an orderly disengagement from the former and that the same circumstances can be established for the setting of a similar course in the latter…
the question should be asked why the United States maintains a separate second army devoted to that task. That second army is much larger than the whole British Army.
Indeed. You can chalk that up to 2 simple things:
1) clear USMC decisive entry at Inchon in 1950, and
2) obvious, decades-long USMC information operations against the US Congress.
These also are life-lessons taught to all USMC officers down at Quantico.
The cult of decisiveness owes as much to the Corps’ heritage of amphib assaults like Inchon as it does to its need to differentiate itself from the “conventional” Army’s overpowering attrition heritage. The differentiation is key to the information ops and institutional survival.
I think the jury remains out as to USMC’s amphibious heritage surviving the land-locked, desert environments in which the Corps has fought over the past 10 years. There’s a whole generation of kids growing up that have rarely ridden an amphib to the beach, but ridden them all over the roads of Iraq and Afghanistan. These future leaders will remain wedded to decisive battle, but I think far less wedded to getting to said battle inside AAAVs.
That is, of course, the Corps survives in any meaningful way once the entire budget house of cards begins to tumble. (A future precious few in the services acknowledge, much less contemplate.)
The operation, dubbed Moshtrarak , which means “together” in Dari
Interesting choice of word and language, no? I think the Pashto equivalent is closer to jambuss (nearer to jum’a), or something like that, a word that has connotations with the unity once shown during the Catastrophe. In any case, Taliban is an ideology, not a regiment. It can’t be defeated this way, let alone by us.
Will there ever be an end to this self-promoting nonsense of massive, mother-of-all assaults? The kind that advertised Fallujah as the Mesopotamian Verdun, I mean. Once again, ordnance will be exploded in hallucinatory abundance, a few goats will be incinerated, and McChrystal will secure his place as pro-consul of further Mesopotamia.
Same, same, but different.
Both “mushtarak” and “jum’a” are loan words from Arabic and mean approximately the same thing, “joint.” pl
Yes. The marines are very effective in their internal propaganda. The capitalization of the word, “Marine” is a good example. It is still ridiculous to have two armies. They should be merged. If the marines want the resulting force to be caled the “Marine Corps” that’s all right with me.
The Inchon landing was decisive of what? The war went on four three years and ended in a draw
How about the Normandy invasion? No marines there and the war ended in total victory less than a year later. pl
Communist victory in VN was no more inevitable than northern victory in the Civil War.
The war in VN was lost politically in the US. The vulnerability of the North Vietnamese leadership to a real prospect of massive infrastructure destruction is clearly shown by the alacrity with which they accepted an armistice after “Linebacker II.”
Draftees returning from VN had some effect on public opinion but not a great deal. What could they say? we fought a lot? Most of them did not since the combat burden was carried by a relatively small number of people.
No. TV news won the war for the NVA and the New Left. pl
The Army performed the majority of amphibious operations in WW2, not the marines. pl
As you intimate, saying that a battle will be decisive does not make it so. Someone else brought up the point that Marjah isn’t actually a city. Therefor, as has been said of the Holy Roman Empire, that it is neither holy nor Roman nor an empire; “The Decisive Battle for the City of Marjah” is likely to be neither decisive nor a battle nor fought for a city.
Referring to Dr. Silverman’s comments addressing the notion of pursuing that which is in our national interest, I’d like to go backward from that into what I percieve to be the fundamental problem. It seems to me that the United States, at least since Woodrow Wilson’s time, has had problems in defining what was in the national interest. This inability has led to a series of foreign policy errors/mistakes/disasters, for which history, given our economic; military; and cultural power, won’t be kind. I’m led to the conclusion that we tend to define our interest in an a priori fashion, then adapting and choosing the facts that will support an already decided issue. Wishful thinking is one phrase which springs to mind. Looking back at the most fateful courses of action over the last 75 years, I think this has been a pattern.
That business about the
Holy Roman empire is something that freshmen pick up and never seem to get over. In fact the HRE wa a great force in history and the support of the emperor was never taken lightly. Consider the history of the Latin States of the East as an example.
My opinion is worth nothing as to whether or not the Marja offensive’s success or failure will be decisive?
If that is so, why do you visit here? pl
“What is not being said is that these men are mostly not Pushtuns…”
I remember being at FOB Hit in Anbar in, oh, 2005 (after Fallujah) and a big offensive (“River Blitz”) was being planned. The Marines were excited about a group of loyal Iraqi soldiers who would be fighting with them (“They seem motivated, not like those useless ?!?s they usually send us.”) I wandered over and chatted with the loyalists — two companies of ’em. They were all Shia from the south. I mentioned this to the Colonel in charge of the marines i was with. Nobody had told him. After the loyalists shot up a local family at a checkpoint and then set their car on fire he agreed their enthusiasm might not be such a good thing…
River Blitz didn’t accomplish much of anything (when it was over a sgt. known as “Boston Bob” said to me: “River Blitz? More like effing River Dance.”)
Just a follow up: I knew nothing about the Helmand Valley Project. But if you go to books.google.com and type that phrase in, there’s a fair bit of stuff out of copyright to be found there. Good stuff for anyone interested.
Adam Silverman writes “Not to sound too anti-colonial”… as if being anti-colonial is a bad thing. Is it a bad thing?
NYTimes coverage: I have previously found Chivers and Filkin good reporters, but there is a bit of cheerleading in today’s stories that means I’m reading the whole thing with a whole box of salt.
The impact of the fall of the Soviet Union on the United States is never discussed anywhere. But, the simple fact is that the USA is fighting a never ending war in Afghanistan because of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
First, if the Soviet Union troops hadn’t withdrawn USA troops would never have invaded Afghanistan.
Second, “fellow travelers” and clandestine Soviet funding pushed the anti-war movement in Europe and America in the 60’s and 70’s. Western corporate media to contrast themselves from Pravda attempted to be fair and accurate and gave a balanced reporting of the war in Vietnam. The Draft tore the lives apart of American families in the 60’s. Today there is no Draft or anti-war movement and the news consists of government Psy-Ops. Wall Street rides roughshod over Main Street and American workers. Crony Capitalism rules now and forever.
However, as the discussion of the War of 1812 shows, there are certain themes in war and history. One is that the only way a foreign invader can conquer and rule another people is with overwhelming force and political savvy. The British and American invasions in 1812-1815 came to naught just like Afghanistan because all the power of the State was not used to win the War; i.e. the North in the American Civil War or the USA in WWII. The one sure thing in unrestrained capitalism is bankruptcy. A financial crash will end the American Middle East Wars one day.
Try not to write here with doctrinaire self righteousness.
Would India be better off without universities or a British inspired legal system and constitution?
Would Vietnam have been better off without Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap? They were both creations of French colonial educational institutions. pl
You are correct that Inchon was not strategically decisive in that the Korean War continued long after. Of course, had the American Caesar stopped at the 38th Parallel, the war might have ended right then and there. Perhaps we can agree that Inchon was operationally decisive?
As for Normandy, I agree that this too was an operational and strategically decisive battle. And yes, even today, the Army has even more amphibious ships than the USMC-USN team!
Personally, I have no problem with some sort of future merger. I expect it to occur despite the USMC’s internal propaganda. The future budget reality will be the cause.
The author of the grand operational combination that sent the 1st Marine Division to take Inchon as a turning movement was Douglas Macarthur. That move, couple d with the breakout of the 8th Army from the Pusan Peneinsula wa a masterful stroke. pl
Your comment was too long winded. You did not answer my argument concerning the speed with which the communists accepted a cease fire after “Linebacker 2.” As for my observation that the war was “pointless,” that is true from an American point of view but not that of the several million Vietnamese who fled their country to avoide living under communist government. pl
quickie on operation marja so far,
One of the best strategy so far.
– taliban will abandon the town, leaving key coordination/supply town. Probably leavin few spies and partisan in town when they attempt to retake the town.
– but since the town was taken relatively peacefully. (hopefully) a quick civil administration offices can be created with much less resistance.
– question next will be how efficient the new town administration will be. But it’s very near laskar gah, and without marjah, taliban has to carry those road bomb from pretty far away place, reducing their frequency.
definitely counter insurgency method on town of marjah. (it’s a small town, nothing like kabul)
I wonder where the taliban run away to, and how well marjah resident will cooperate pointing taliban exit route. I suppose little nice words and aid goodies will get the ball rolling.
It’s mid winter, the taliban won’t be able to stay moving outside for very long.
very well executed.
The Marines learned their internal propaganda skills from McArthur. The unheralded US Army General Walter Krueger was McArhtur’s brains and mentor in amphibious operations. He never got credit that was due to him because of Dugout Doug’s internal insane jealousy that he might be upstaged by his subordinates. Unlike Ike Mac kept the press away from his lower level commanders. y 1943, Krueger took command of the army, based in Australia. Krueger – in command of the Sixth Army — masterminded all of the many scores of amphibious assaults in the SWPA and the Philippines which Mac took credit for.
Groundhog day, you see the movie?
If India had not been invaded by England would they now have universities? Yes, for sure. Would they have a legal system? Yes again. Good ideas get shared in many ways, the relationship need not be colonial.
wishful thinking. pl
I share your dislike of Macarthur, but the devil should be given his due.
You are right about
Kruger. He was unlucky to be sent to the Pacific. Marshall did not like him? pl
This is a long shot, but since someone else brought it up it might be worth mentioning. Could it be that the name Operation Moshtrarak (Together) might be an inside reference to the 2006 joint US Iraqi Operation Forward Together? Now of course the conventional wisdom is that OFT was a failure – in that it was suppose to bring security to Baghdad and failed to do so.
It has been my suspicion since that time, that the operation marked the beginning of the end of Iraq war. Because while the operation failed to restore security it also flooded Baghdad with US and (largely Shiite) Iraq troops with the general effect that when the smoke finally cleared Baghdad had been transformed to a largely Shiite city. With the Sunni civilian insurgent structure in disarray if not into permanent exile. This then set the stage for all that followed with the “surge”, the Awakening movement, the standdown of JAM and eventually the unwinding of violence in general.
Could it be that there is a tacit acknowledgment by association, and a wish that Operation Together might trend out with the same results eventually?
I’m no linguist, but I would ask those who are – is there any relationship between these words and “zusammenbrechen”?
As in, we’re all sitting here in this mess together now…
In regard to your “explanation” of the wonders of third world cultures, I am tired of your BS pseudo-intellectual lectures. I have endured nonsense from native and orientalist fools for 40 years telling me that medieval optics, medecine and astronomy are equivalent to nuclear physics and organ transplantation.
What the British made into India was a morass of eastern despotism before the Brits showed up. Grow up. pl
Dear Col. Lang,
I have a somewhat different point of view regarding MacArthur’s generalship. I suppose the man was a genius, but as a general his post-WWI record is very spotty at best. He lived off the accomplishments of his rather unfortunate subordinates starting with Jonathan Wainwright who deserved far better. IMHO his operational performance in the Philippines in 1941-42 should’ve led to a permanent retirement (of course FDR couldn’t do that for political reasons).
Inchon has a mythical place on his record, but having seen the ground numerous times IMHO he was lucky that it didn’t turn into a disaster especially for the 5th Marines. (Then again as Napoleon supposedly stated it’s better to be lucky than good) IIRC Kim Philby was already in Washington, DC in the summer of 1950. As for the importance of Inchon, contrary to popular opinion, the Inmingun were already a broken army by the first week of September (The elite KPA 4th and 6th Divisions’ final disastrous attempt to break through the Nakdong Bulge along the Chinju-Masan-Pusan axis was the death knell). Over the course of two weeks, six KPA divisions (1st, 2d, 6th, 7th,9th and 13th) were wiped out. And the Eighth Army had a pretty clear picture of the situation as they were able to read the KPA radio traffic. General Collins who had visited the Pusan Perimeter in August didn’t believe the Inchon landing was either necessary or advisable given the risk. It’s just about the worst possible landing site imaginable, and the Incheon-Seoul route is filled with numerous choke points. Tidal conditions were bad enough (The first wave would be stranded for 12 hours) but the UN forces were facing a city of 250,000 immediately upon landing. This was followed by numerous small hilltops before Han River which could have been a formidable barrier. And September 15 was smack middle of the typhoon season.
There was something strange about MacArthur the man. Perhaps it was his supposed megalomania, but he could be extraordinarily inflexible as an operational and theater commander especially when rapidly changing facts on the ground would render crucial assumptions as useless. For example, after the Inchon landing it was pretty obvious that he became amphib-happy. The Wonsan and Hungnam landings would’ve been comical had it not cost lives needlessly. Unlike Inchon there were minefields at both ports. His grand vision of using X Corps to cut across the peninsula east to west and taking Pyongyang became a bitter joke as I Corps beat them to Pyongyang even though it had ceded critical assets and road nets per MacArthur’s orders. The decision to drop the 187th Airborne RCT at Sunchon had disastrous consequences as there was fratricide with the ROK 6th Division that had already captured the objective. I’d posit that much of the heavy lifting on the part of the US/UN forces were done by Walker and Ridgway who had saved the Eighth Army despite long odds (especially for Walker).
Colonel Lang –
I do not dislike McArthur. Although my great uncle Dinty who served at the Argonne hated the man. I understand General Marshall did not like McArthur either. But I will give him his due in WW-I where he was a heroic officer.
But a military genius, no way, the man was an ego driven self-aggrandizer whose reputation in WW-II and Korea was built on the genius of Krueger, Kenney, Struble, Smith and others.
The story on Krueger was that he was too old and also was German-born, so that was why he was assigned to the SWPA and not to Europe. It had nothing to do with Marshall’s like or dislike. Krueger would have been a decade older than Ike, Patton, Bradley and the others in the ETO.
PeterHug: Not a linguist either, but none of these words has a meaning of “collapse” as zusammenbrechen (“falling together”) does.
However, there is an even more ominous connection. “Mushtarak” is related to the word “shirk” (roughly: polytheism, the fact of putting associates “together” with Allah), one of the absolute cardinal sins in Islam.
I’m not sure if the connection will impinge upon the mind of Dari/Persian/Urdu speakers.
(Also from the “eerie coincidences” dept.: apparently there is also an arabic word “Sharak”, that means “trap, snare”. Who was in charge of finding the name for this operation?…)
I am a linguist. The verbal root sha-ra-ka in Arabic deals with the bringing together of diverse things. “Shirk” is the sinful association of profane (worldly) things with a level of concern that belong only to the sacred (God). “Mushtarak” means “joint” plain and simple as in “arkan” (staff) “mushtaraka” (joint). This means “joint staff.”
Arabic is built morphologically on this system of verbal roots. These roots generally “cover” vary large areas of meaning in the words derived from them.
This word in Dari is a direct “borrowing” from the Arabic. pl
Responding to your comment in response to my comment: The Holy Roman Empire was, though de-centralized, a force through medieval times and up to the reformation. After the Peace of Westphalia the empire was basically the Hapsburg monarchy and an association of Electors, German princelings, and bishoprics.
I was reading tea leaves and suspected that you didn’t think the occupation of Marjah would be decisive. Do you? I don’t. My main point had to do with what I see as problems in determining what what is actually in our national interest.
And, setting aside U.S. Army amphibious assaults in the Pacific, in addition to Normandy there were also North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, and The Riviera. All on a large scale and with allies. Very complicated operations.
I think success or failure at Marja will be decisive in the outcome in Afghanistan. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I believe that the outcome will be decisive in the level of support that McChrystal’s strategy continues to receive HERE!! If Afghan government can be usefully installed at Marja then McChrystal will get a couple of years to make his scheme work in the country, if not… pl
Well, I was trying to be nice to the man’s memory. Perhaps I am overly deferential to Macarthur’s memory because my father admired him so much. Dad served in the Phillipines when the great man was “field marshaling” there in the ’30s. Somehow, my father managed to combine admiration for Macarthur with a high regard for Krueger and Wainright.
Thanks for the really useful and detailed information. This sounds like inside “poop” as cadets would say at WP.
Are you a relative of the General Richardson who was USARPAC CG during WW2?
Somehow I unintentionally lost the comment of the marine who wrote to straighten me out about the US Marine Corps. send it again and I will post it. pl
Dear Col. Lang,
“Well, I was trying to be nice to the man’s memory. Perhaps I am overly deferential to Macarthur’s memory because my father admired him so much. Dad served in the Phillipines when the great man was “field marshaling” there in the ’30s. Somehow, my father managed to combine admiration for Macarthur with a high regard for Krueger and Wainright.”
I suppose I ought to make allowance for the general’s age as even Winfield Scott was too old for field command by 1861. However I sometimes wonder if MacArthur’s talents would’ve been better served in Europe where his propensity for daring gambles at operational level would’ve been better suited for mobile operations (e.g., potential envelopment of the Westheer after Cobra). I cannot imagine MacArthur hesitating at crucial junctures after the breakout as Bradley had done. I just think someone like General Truscott could’ve been more successful in Korea had he been recalled to active service.
“Are you a relative of the General Richardson who was USARPAC CG during WW2?”
No sir. Other than my father and I, most of my family (including my son) have served in the Navy/USMC.
Is this the comment you were looking for?
I will reserve judgment as to whether Marja will be decisive until after the scope of Afghan government and US civilian post-security actions becomes evident.
Your comment that “the marines are once again following their instinct to seek a decisive battle” is rather surprising. Beyond the obvious rhetorical response of “who wants to fight an indecisive battle?”, you overlook the fact that the Marine forces are executing a tactical action that is part of Gen. McChrystal’s plan. The USMC forces may be the main effort in Helmand at the moment, but that does not negate the point that the battle they are commencing originated from an Army officer.
I am also surprised by your fixation on the idea that “the US Marine Corps is an amphibious assault force at its core.” The Marine Corps relies on the US Navy for seaborne transportation and is responsible for the development of doctrine for amphibious operations, but it is also responsible for maintaining a high state of readiness and for providing combined arms forces that meet the needs of theater commanders. It should be remembered that the first conventional forces deployed to land-locked Afghanistan were the Marines under (then) MGen Mattis.
I could go on and note the employment of Marine forces in the I Corps area of Vietnam vice the Mekong Delta or the USMC’s authorship of the Small Wars Manual or the development of vertical envelopment, but the point has been made. Amphibious operations are an essential part of the Marine Corps’ contribution to US national security, but they are not all encompassing.
Jebus, the Russians mortally wounded Germany, stop this USOFA, stuff for d-day.
cloned poster – “the Russians mortally wounded Germany”
The Russian winter and American lend-lease beat the Germans on the Eastern Front. The Soviets were allies of the Germans and helped them in the invasion of Poland. They stayed allies until Hitler finally jumped the shark and broke the alliance.
And please, no lectures on Stalingrad. The Russkies folded up the German siege of Stalingrad by attacking the Rumanians on the German flanks. And then the Germans placed too much reliance on resupply by air for more than a million man army, as promised by Goring. The Italian and Hungarian troops did not help much either. Hitler needed to choose his friends better. The only allied unit of Germany to put up much of a fight at Stalingrad was the Croatian Legion.
Afghan Agriculture Minister Muhammad Asif Rahimi
Rahimi added, “Agricultural development is the solution to poppy. Helmand province (the world poppy capital) has wheat, melons, pomegranates. Saffron in Helmand is more valuable than poppy.” Indeed, in the past year, help with wheat seed and cultivation has led to a 30 percent drop in Helmand’s poppy crop (aided by a drop in poppy prices due to overcultivation).
But Rahimi insists that the key to boosting farm production is helping Afghans build up their technical expertise. He would like to see more U.S. experts seconded to Afghan ministries, both in Kabul and in rural districts, training Afghans to take over. As of November, only one U.S. expert had appeared at his ministry, he said.
“The Indian government,” he told me, “is working to establish an agricultural university, based on the concept of U.S. land grant colleges. Why didn’t the U.S. come up with this?” Rahimi fondly recalls attending an Afghan technical institute in the early ’70s — “built by the Peace Corps and taught in English.” He also recalls the glory days of USAID experts, who were hugely popular in Afghanistan in the ’60s.
“Lashkar Gah (Helmand’s capital) was little America, with lots of U.S. agronomists,” he said. “There were mountains of wheat, melons, grapes, and not even a kilo of poppy. The State Department should look back at the time when everyone was in love with American agricultural teachers.”
“On 19 January, the Russian forces stormed and took the Presidential Palace. On 20 January 1995, Yeltsin declared the military phase of the operation in Chechnya almost complete and the Ministry of the Interior responsible for establishing law and order.” Yet the fighting went on for an another month in the city and the chechens recaptured Grozny in 1996 only to lose it again in 2000. Does a geprgraphic spot matter that much? IMHO not.
Mr. Fitzgerald: I think you have an excellent point about uncertainties around what is the national interest or what is in the national interest. Some of this, I think, is natural; as times and administrations change, so to does the understanding of national interest. For instance, I had a political science professor as an undergrad who once told me that “nothing is as dangerous as a Democracy when it is frightened”. Given the way the US has responded domestically and internationally over the past 8 and a 1/2 years I certainly can’t argue with him. That said it makes perfect sense to me that the farther the US gets from a traumatic or tragic historical event the understanding of the given event and the proposals for how to deal with it would shift.
As someone who studied terrorism and security administration prior to 9-11, I was outraged and angered by the attacks, with some of the anger directed at our elected and appointed officials for failing to take aviation security seriously despite 30 years of evidence that it was a soft target – especially the 1994 GIA attempt to do the same thing over Paris, but I was not surprised by the attack itself or put into a state of panic. I was very surprised by the success of the attack, as in the number of casualties/fatalities. At that time I believed that Afghanistan as a failed state had to be fixed. I looked at this through the lens of my criminological training about failed communities and there ability to incubate and facilitate deviance, delinquency, crime, and violence. After several years of working as a practitioner, rather than a scholar, I’m now convinced that Afghanistan can’t be fixed, especially given the way we currently approach stabilization, reconstruction, and development, and that we shouldn’t be really trying (rather than repeat all the arguments I’ve previously made, I’ll just refer folks to my previous posts on the subject here at SST). So individual, societal, or state adjustments to what is or isn’t in the national interest aren’t a bad thing, unfortunately I’m not sure as a society we’re doing a lot of self-reflection on this.
Castellio: In my line of work of the past couple of years one gets accused of acting colonially quite often. So my rhetorical view becomes that there are basically two perceptions of approach: colonial or anti-colonial. And I would prefer to avoid the use of both or being labelled as either. It was in that vein that I made the reference. Afghanistan has lots of problems, we have some ownership of them. Trying to fix them, or assist in fixing them is not necessarily a bad thing. The problems arise with how we do these things as often as they arise with should we do these things.
Col, the American electorate are only interested in an economy that will provide them their bread, circus’s and constituent services. Obama has all the time in the world politically in the absence of a draft to achieve his aims in Afghanistan.
I think you are wrong about this. Are you an American? pl
An Indian point of view.
“American and British forces have launched their biggest operation since 2001 in a place called Marjah in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan. The US has every reason to be worried that the Afghan Taliban forces under attack will retreat into Pakistani territory and obtain a safe haven in which to regroup.
This attack [Pune, February 13] was expected and it is logical to expect more LeT attacks — and probably more severe attacks, sufficiently provocative to create immense pressure on India to retaliate with a military response. Pakistan desperately wants Indian jingoistic rhetoric: talk of military response, our strategists holding forth on a “cold start” and our media screaming for retaliation. They may not need an actual military response; even our politics and media, if sufficiently jingoistic, will be adequate for Pakistan to move their troops away from their western border to the east, allow safe haven to the Afghan Taliban and blame it all on the “Indian threat”.
In other words, if the Americans do not win this campaign in Afghanistan they can forget about not only being a preeminent economic and technological power but a preeminent military power. They will have been defeated not by the Taliban — but by the wily ISI, that they themselves trained in the 1980s. Will that be acceptable? The Pakistanis will have reversed the results of the 2001 campaign, restored the Taliban to Afghanistan, sustained the LeT threats to the US homeland and perhaps kept alive Osama bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri.
India should not walk into the Pakistani trap. Can the government of India afford to do so? ”
So was MARJAH decisive? Why or why not?
I believe on objective evidence from today it was not decisive for the USA but did end up driving the Taliban to seek negotiated settlement that USA rejected! In other words the fruits of victory were discarded.
Operation “Moshtarok” (Marjah) was decisive in that we have not been able to pacify the Marjah district. As soon as the marines leave theTaliban will be back. If we could not pacify Marjah and bring it under central government control then we will not be able to pacify any of the Pashtun areas. Watch the film. pl
If, as you say, Marjah was decisive in that we cannot expect to be able to pacify any of the Pashtun areas, then what is the implication of this for the future of the Afghan war? As a civilian with no military or foreign policy experience, I simply cannot parse the implications of the imposssibility of pacification other than that there seems to be simply no value in our remaining in Afghanistan other than the maintainence of the folly as a domestic jobs program. The whole mis-adventure seems hopeless and its continuation futile. Am I missing something or is there some real national interest we have any possibility of protecting by remaining?
Wikipedia has a summary of the battle, but the last date menttioned is June 2010. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Marja
What is the current situation there if anyone knows?
The Shia victory over the Sunnis in Baghdad as well as IRGC success in brokering a ceasefire between the IA and Shia militias went a long way in establishing reduced conflict in Iraq.
The tribute paid by the US to certain Sunnis helped, too, but that mostly alleviated aggression directed at the US, which was not at all the big picture of what was taking place.
Afghanistan? Yeah, you could ask the Iranians to play a similar role to the one they played in Iraq and maybe that would help in reducing conflict. But those piled on sanctions for a nuclear weapons program that doesn’t exist (new NIE release imminent reaffirms) ain’t gonna make ’em amenable, I can tell you that.
God even as I read the squib above – “a huge are – 75 square miles” it sounds absurd.
It is 251,772 square miles.
In fact, the corner was turned in Iraq when a handful of Army and marine officers and sergeants took matters into their own hands and responded to “feelers” from insurgent leaders who wanted to change sides . . . The troop surge in the Baghdad area? Helpful in sorting out neighborhoods, helpful in backing up the efforts of the “Sons of Iraq,” but definitely a sideshow.
It’s amazing the extent to which this simple truth is completely ignored in Washington and in the semi-official US media — consensually flushed straight down the memory hole.
Probably because no one has any interest in admitting the truth — not the neocons, who led us into the Iraq fiasco in the first place, not the Democrats and assorted realist hangers on, who were ready to through in the towel in 2006, not even Petraeus and his brain trust, who would much rather bask in the image of the team that “saved Iraq” than the team that did a bunch of dirty deals with the insurgents to cover our “phased withdrawal”.
Truly, an inversion of the old adage that success has a thousand fathers, while defeat is an orphan.
b, restart Moon of Alabama