Monday, September 20, 2010

The Marja "Success Story"

The NYT's Elizabeth Bumiller files a report from the town of Marja in Afghanistan's Helmand province, about how voter turnout there was depressed by violence and intimidation.  As you may recall, several months ago Marja was touted as the model of how US forces were going to sweep in, eliminate the Taliban, and restore stability, first there, then (it was hoped) Kandahar, for which Marja was supposed to be a dress rehearsal of sorts.  But no sooner had the Marines swept through did the Taliban re-assert themselves, and the Marja campaign was revealed to be another "false dawn" in a series of them throughout much of the country.

Bumiller's report features the frustration of the local Marine commander, who seems almost incredulous that fewer than 100 voters (from a town with a population of 80,000) had shown up at the polling stations.  He seems to feel that 3 or 4 Taliban gunmen (whose firing could be heard from the polling station Bumiller visited) ought not to have been able to keep so many from voting.  It's almost as if he feels that the locals had "wimped out" after he and his marines had put their lives on the line.


I live in a "town" of about 25,000, and I'd bet you that if even only 3 or 4 gunmen (who, I knew, had local support, as the Taliban do in Marja) were running around the area on voting day, I just might stay away.  And we have a reliable and well-trained police force here; I'm betting that Marja does not - nor, I suspect, are the locals going to be all that inclined to view the Marines as a friendly force.

And has the Marine commander forgotten that, in contrast to the locals, he and his marines get to leave Marja once their tour is up?  I don't envy them, surely; they are indeed in harm's way.  But the locals have been in harm's way much longer - for 30 years, actually - and must realize that they'll be in harm's way long after the Americans are gone.

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