Saturday, February 13, 2010

The 17,500 NATO and Afghan Troops ringing the Helmand town of Marjah have begun the long planned offensive into the Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan. While the unfolding battle is being covered reasonably well by Reuters, the WSJ, and Pakistan's Daily Times, please stay with us here at D&D for our analysis and reporting as well.

In my eyes, there are several important stories coming out of Operation Moshtarak that are secondary to the combat, but may have far reaching importance in the future of COIN. The first is the long planned instillation of the so-called "government in a box" for the post-conflict scenario in Marjah. Should the NATO/Afghan forces secure the city through traditional sweep, clear and hold tactics -- the second stage of the operation is the instantaneous insertion of pre-planned governance to fill the vacuum in Marjah. I think I can safely say the eyes of COIN theorists everywhere will be fixed on this phase of the operation -- which could become a centerpoint in the Obama Administration's Afghan strategy. It is true that while the NATO/Afghan forces are not outfought by the Taliban, they have most definitely been out governed, something that Operation Moshtarak may begin... reverse. This will be a testing moment for the Civil-Military relations for both the Obama and Karzai governments.

The second important story that is not receiving (I believe) adequate coverage is that the Marjah offensive will be the first combat deployment of the Marine Assault Breacher Vehicle (ABV). While there has been so much focus on the price tags of the F-22/F-35/CV-X platforms in recent news, this new offensive weapon has slid below the radar, which is unfortunate -- since unlike the previously mentioned projects, this capability has direct and immediate impact on the Afghan battle-space.

Designed to quickly and completely clear minefields while under fire, the ABV combines the strength and speed of the Abrams Tank with a bulldozer. However, its anti-mine capabilities are being retasked, turning the ABV into an IED killer. It will be interesting to see how its deployment effects the speed with which NATO forces can effectively enter Marjah -- which has been heavily mined by the 800-1000 Taliban fighters, who seem to have decided to die in place.

Essentially, Operation Moshtarak seems to suggest that General McChrystal has taken a close look at his fellow General Rupert Smith's work. This operation recognizes the changing nature of warfare -- it is a fight to create space between the Taliban and the people, and seeks to deploy old technologies in new ways. Should this approach be successful, it will have far reaching consequences.

Please keep checking back here for breaking news and analysis of this massive offensive into Marjah!


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