A Cautionary Tale In Afghanistan Battle

U.S. officials say the war in Afghanistan hinges on routing the Taliban from their stronghold in Kandahar. Jean MacKenzie, a reporter for GlobalPost.com, tells host Guy Raz there is a cautionary tale in the failed bid to secure Marjah.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

National security is understandably taken a backseat to the oil spill in recent days, but two developments this past week will no doubt shape the direction of America's strategic engagements for some time to come. The first is in Afghanistan, where the thousandth American serviceman was killed on Thursday. He was Marine Corporal Jacob Leicht of Kerrville, Texas.

Now as we speak, U.S. and NATO forces are gearing up for a summer offensive in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar. The second development was the release of the Obama administration's National Security Strategy. In a moment, we'll speak with the author of that report, but we begin the hour with a familiar voice to listeners of this program.

Jean MacKenzie is the Kabul correspondent for GlobalPost.com. And when we reached her a short time ago, she described why U.S. and NATO officials are so focused on Kandahar.

Ms. JEAN MacKENZIE (Correspondent, GlobalPost.com): I think the ability to control Kandahar would be a very big coup for NATO and the U.S. forces, but we are apparently no longer talking about an offensive. It is then morphed into what's now being called a process, because no one has any real idea what the shape of the Kandahar operation is going to look like.

RAZ: Jean, in the past few weeks, the Taliban have carried out some pretty brazen attacks - two attacks - on two of the most heavily fortified U.S.-NATO installations in Afghanistan; one in Bagram, near Kabul, one in Kandahar. What do those Taliban attacks tell us about their strategic thinking?

Ms. MacKENZIE: Well, the Taliban have promised a summer offensive, and they are trying to say to themselves and to their supporters, we are not going down easily. And if you think you can take us easily, you are very much mistaken.

RAZ: Jean, earlier this year, we talked a lot about the offensive in Marja. This was built as the largest U.S.-NATO operation in Afghanistan. Since the invasion in 2001, Marja was said to have been secured by U.S. and NATO forces. Now, it's my understanding that the Taliban is now back in control.

Ms. MacKENZIE: Well, I think that Marja was never cleared and never really was secured. I think that the military was a bit hasty in that assessment. We expected to win. We said we won. And now we're having to backtrack on that statement because Marja now is just as unstable as it was before the February offensive. (Unintelligible) supposed to clear it.

RAZ: Yeah. But my understanding was that Afghan forces were going to stay behind to hold Marja, that a government out of a box was being installed, local officials were going to be in control. What happened to those ideas?

Ms. MacKENZIE: Well, they did bring in their government in a box. But as one of - the military put it off the record, when they opened the box, there wasn't much in it. So without any cooperation, or very little cooperation from the local forces, and without an effective Afghan government to help them, the U.S. and NATO forces were not really - to accomplish much.

RAZ: Jean, also today in Afghanistan, the top U.S. and NATO commander there, General Stanley McChrystal, seemed to indicate that the fight in Afghanistan will extend, you know, far beyond President Obama's plans to drawdown U.S. troops by 2011. Is that just stating the obvious or should this come as a surprise?

Ms. MacKENZIE: Well, I'm not really sure whether he's stating the obvious or whether he is trying to engage in a little PSYOPS or psychological operations of his own. There have been many people who have said that President Obama's open statement that he would start to withdraw troops in 2011 was just a gift to the Taliban who were then going to say, all we have to do is wait another year or two years and then we can gain our objective without the bother of fighting for it.

So I think that the U.S. forces are starting to realize that this very open talk about withdrawing is really detrimental to their overall mission and are trying to back away from that.

RAZ: That's Jean MacKenzie. She is a correspondent for the GlobalPost.com. She joined me from Kabul in Afghanistan.

Jean, thanks so much for the update.

Ms. MacKENZIE: Thank you, Guy. My pleasure.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: