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Story Publication logo December 3, 2009

Something from Nothing: US Strategy in Afghanistan


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Nir Rosen embedded with American troops in Afghanistan to observe the COIN strategy first-hand, and...

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Nir Rosen resting at a checkpoint in Helmand manned by Afghan Police and American soldier.Image by Matthias Bruggermann. Afghanistan, 2009.

On July 4, 2009 Team Prowler, American soldiers from the Illinois National Guard, set off to patrol Highway 601, a key road in Afghanistan's Helmand province. All trade entering the province passed through 601. It was the land supply route for British, American, and Afghan forces, and the "skuff" hall in the British-run base was getting low on food. The Taliban controlled villages along the road. "Nothing out there but the Taliban," one soldier said. Civilian vehicles avoided 601 because of the roadside bombs, called IEDs.

Team Prowler followed 4,000 U.S. Marines who, a month earlier, launched a "mini-Surge" aimed at taking over Taliban-controlled villages in Helmand, the country's largest poppy-producing province. Helmand had also seen the most attacks on American, British, and Afghan government troops. The plan called for an "Afghan face," joining marines with the Afghan Army and Afghan National Police (ANP). The Afghans knew the language and the people, and they could provide intelligence. The marines also hoped that Afghan participation would convince locals that the Americans were fighting on their behalf, that this was not just another foreign occupation.

Sergeant Dyer, a thickly muscled former Navy Seal who took part in Team Prowler's patrol, complained to me that the Afghan police knew where to find the Taliban but did not pursue them. "At one checkpoint they were still wearing their man jammies, not uniforms," he said, referring to the salwar kameez, the long flowing tunic and baggy pants that Afghans often wear. "IEDs are placed two clicks from police checkpoints. They don't go on patrol, and at the sound of the first shot they request air support. . . . They say, 'if we don't get air support we're leaving.'"

After the Americans cleared an area of insurgents, Afghan security forces were supposed to hold it. But the security forces were too small and poorly trained to do their part. Despite the billions of dollars spent since the fall of 2001, the Afghan Army never showed up. Dyer and fellow officers complained bitterly—and openly.

Read the full article as featured in Boston Review






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