February 11th, 2010
07:57 AM ET

Q&A: Why Marjah, why now?

As U.S. and coalition troops, including a large Afghan force, surround the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, CNN asked two experts for their take on why this operation is important and what it means for the future of the war in Afghanistan.

Andrew Exum served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's review team of the Afghanistan strategy. His is the founder of the blog Abu Muqawama and is now with the Center for New American Security in Washington, D.C. Mark Moyar is a professor of national security affairs at the Marine Corps University and just returned from training U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Q: Many have never even heard of Marjah – why is the area such a big deal?

Moyar: Marjah is in Helmand province where they've made a major push in the past year with the Marines. It is the last major enemy holdout, and it is serving as a sanctuary - it is allowing them to stage military attacks, build IEDs. And it is militarily imperative and also psychologically imperative that we remove this sanctuary area, make it harder for the insurgents to operate. It's much harder for them if they don't have that sanctuary area now so they can still move into sanctuaries in other places like Pakistan, but we're going to work on those as well. But this is really a big thorn in our side and one that we're clearly going to address in the near future.

Q: Why haven't coalition forces tried securing Marjah before now?

Exum: Unfortunately, when you look at our force-to-population ratios in Helmand and throughout Afghanistan really, we're not matched up to a degree where we can secure every place all the time. However, the Marines have had a lot of security gains in Helmand province over the past year, and so now it makes sense to go after Marjah at this time because we have had some gains elsewhere through that Helmand River valley.

Q: If indeed this will be a victory for NATO forces, will this be a game-changer for the whole war?

Exum: No, it's not. In Afghanistan, unfortunately, there's no silver bullet. There's no one thing that we're going to do that's going to turn the tide. What you're going to see in Afghanistan is very steady, very unglamorous offensives whereby we're moving in and trying to secure the population, to buy the Afghan government some time and space to build up key institutions. No one thing is going to be a game-changer. There is no silver bullet in Afghanistan. This is the long, hard slog of counterinsurgency, unfortunately. But so far the Marines in Helmand province have done very well over the past year since they've been deployed there.

Moyar: That's right, it is going to be a long process. These types of wars aren't going to be decided by a single battle, and we're going to have to hold this area. Even bigger than going in and clearing it out is going to be what we do afterward, because we have gone in and cleared that area several times before but we haven't had a good follow-on plan, we haven't had robust security forces, and the enemy has come back.

And I think one thing that could be significant coming out of this will be the amount of damage to the civilian population. That's a big question mark right now and something a lot people are concerned about. We don't know yet whether the enemy is going to stand and fight. We don't know how many civilians will be there. So in terms of public relations, it could be a significant event.

This interview originally aired on CNN TV's "American Morning."

Filed under: Marjah • Operation Moshtarak
soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. Sharifullah Khan

    Congratulation NATO for their success in Marjah

    February 19, 2010 at 10:44 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Reality Check

    Arab militants are two-face. The speak negatively about the West's insatiable appetite for oil while they accept profits from oil from the Saudi Royal family. They speak negatively about the West's insatiable appetite for drugs while they take nearly $200,000 a month from drug producers. They speak negatively about the West's lack of bravery while they use women and children as human shields as they fire on coalition forces. They speak negatively about the West's violent nature while they behead those who disagree with them. Just how stupid do they think we are?

    February 18, 2010 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sharifullah Khan

    As far as the education and technology is concerned I agree with you. The whole Muslim world (62 countries) has only a few hundred universities but only America has more universities than the Muslim world. If that was not the case Americans would have found no courage to attack a Muslim country.
    You people will never understand the importance of life here in this region. America does preemptive strikes anywhere in the world just to protect its one citizen. We have the same right to react when one human being is killed (who has proved them to be terrorist. A freedom fighter for one nation is terrorist for the other). Think realistically what is the reason to attack Afghanistan? Osama bin laden? He is still no found. Why America is going to leave Afghanistan without finding him.
    You have told the world that Taliban are terrorists now you are trying to have a dialogue with them. Please don’t kill innocent people. Please.
    I don’t like Osama bin laden because in 80’s he was hero for Americans. Then the American blamed him for 9/11. Who has proved him to be responsible? I want only one thing, don’t kill my people. The people of this land never forget revenge. The Russians know it and soon you will also know it when Americans will run away from here. That is not far, I am sure. You may diplomatically call it completion of mission but it is not. Remember the objectives set by Mr. Bush in 2001 and your achievements till 2011.

    February 17, 2010 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gurbir Bhullar

    To# 21. Jessica you are absolutely right in your observations. Taliban are not fighting for any cause, they are fighting because its their way of life. They are not fighting for Islam only because they have often beheaded and killed many muslims also. They fight for pleasure and they follow guerilla warfare techique. The only way yo defeat them is by adopting the same Guerilla warfare tactics.

    February 16, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Broadway Blues

    Sharifullah Kahn the Taliban are protecting Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The Al Qaeda attacks in Europe is what brought NATO to Afghanistan. Blame yourselves for backing the wrong side. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are backstabbers and shouldn't be trusted.

    February 16, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. God Bless America

    Sharifullah Khan unlike you neanderthals over in Afghanistan and Pakistan we don't fear education. Our education system is second to none. That is why many including Muslims come to this country to get a solid education. The Taliban treat you like a bunch of mushrooms! They keep you in the dark and feed you a bunch of crap. Don't knock what your little brain doesn't understand. Freedom of the press is a wonderful thing. All you do is come on here regurgitate Taliban talking points like a puppet. You too have been programed in a Madrassa. Prepare for your defeat loser!!

    February 16, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sharifullah Khan

    Let the whole world be peaceful. Pull out your forces from around 700 different locations in other countries. Tomorrow’s children are going to read the stories of the cruel and cruel is never forever. Consume your Tax money on the welfare of the people not on making weapons which America is using for killing and destroying human race. Saving the life of a human is far better than winning the ownership of any part of the land. Oil and resources will never be part of the history. Love for human race is going to be history. Don’t come to my country. Let the weaker ones live peacefully. Don’t robe their home or they are going to fight against you until you leave their home.

    February 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Sharifullah Khan

    Huh! Mr. God Bless America you know nothing about Taliban. Whatever media tells you, you own it. Taliban has infiltrated the Khost central office of CIA using computers and modern information Technology. You will never know.

    Afghan people have defeated Russia by US support, ok fine. Why Americans could not get a single objective of Afghan war till the date my dear. Russia was all alone but now 32 nations’ forces are fighting against Afghan people.

    February 16, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Report abuse |
  9. billa

    Attacking and securing a country is not a video game. I wish Americans would realize that. I read suggestions and comments here as if most know how to do it....

    February 16, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Report abuse |
  10. God Bless America

    That's pretty cocky talk Sharifullah Khan. Pashtuns wouldn't have defeated the Soviets without the USA's support. By all rights you should still be speaking Russian if it wasn't for US tax dollars paid for by the good citizens from my country. You obviously support the Taliban. Do they know you're using a computer? If they find out they may beat you senseless in front of crowds of people. You are obviously another so called Taliban hypocrite. Can you live under Taliban rule or this just an act? I'll bet you own a television with a programmable DVR too!

    February 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sharifullah Khan

    There has been a person saying something against the super power. "I was saying...", he said. The moment he opened his mouth, the paid employees of super power took him and kept him in dungeon. For so many years he remained there. One day, at last, he got free losing his body parts and eyes. He went to the same place and started “I was saying…”, he said.
    No one can stop Pashtoons of Afghanistan and the rest of the pashtoon belt from being free. The history has never seen them being slaves nor the Americans can achieve what they want in Afghanistan. It is not so far. Just a couple of years and you will see.

    February 16, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  12. God Bless America

    The Taliban, Al Qaeda and their supporters are hypocrites. The Taliban preach Sharia law while they collect $200,000 in taxes a month from the opium trade in Helmand province to fund the insurgency. Al Qaeda is not much different. The 9/11/01 hijackers were seen drinking heavily at a topless club hours before they killed 3,000 innocent people.

    February 16, 2010 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
  13. Lets Go Marines!

    Sharifullah Khan and Shafi teach us why they must be defeated. Allah wants nothing to do with their ways and if he/she did then Allah is really Satan in disguise. Its not too late to convert to Christianity. God forgives.

    February 16, 2010 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. SHAFI

    First the non-muslims have to understand the commandments from Allah in the Quran as well as the Original Bible which Muslims believe but unfortunately Bible has not been preserved, but maybe some original script is still there, The Holy Quran is preserved, so the the taliban and the Muslims are suppose to follow the shariah as we follow the rules where we live. The west and the non-muslims dont want to follow any religious laws because that's what the satan wants in the name of freedom do whatever you like for ex: no shame,alcohol,rape,murder,backbiting,incest,drugs,gambling,pornography,adult nude shows,homosexuality etc, all these are normal and ignored by the west and non-muslims.These are major sins in Islam and I'm sure in other religions too.But Islam will dominate all other religions on Earth eventhough the non-muslims dont like but is in Holy Quran, so Please read The Holy Quran you will have a peaceful World with Islam if we follow 100 percent. And there is always good and practising Muslims and also less religious and in all other religions also. So think with an open heart and mind and ask God for right religion and path which will please God and hope for Paradise.

    February 15, 2010 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Sharifullah Khan

    Respected mother MommaM, Every mom is like you. Every mom is so caring; you are just like my mom who instructs me to be careful every time I go out. She is so worried about me that I feel she will be dead if am killed. But you know you have sent your child to kill someone else’s children. In Iraq your child has killed more than 3 million people just to find out WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. Your child did not find weapons of mass destruction in the end.

    Sorry to say but in Afghanistan your child was sent to find Osama bin Laden but taking the lives of more than 1.5 million people just to find Osama bin Laden (American CIA has trained and equipped him against former USSR), your child still did not find him. And your child is also responsible for that. My dear mom stop sending your children to Afghanistan to kill someone else’s children. Please don’t send otherwise we have no other way but to kill your single child for every 378 afghan children.

    February 15, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Texas Ranger

    Sharifullah Khan, under the Taliban regime, Sharia law was interpreted to ban a wide variety of activities hitherto lawful in Afghanistan: employment, education and sports for women, movies, television, videos, music, dancing, hanging pictures in homes, clapping during sporting events, kite flying, and beard trimming. One Taliban list of prohibitions include: pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, and equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards. Possession was forbidden of depictions of living things, whether drawings, paintings or photographs, stuffed animals, and dolls. In newly conquered towns hundreds of religious police beat offenders (typically men without beards and women who were not wearing their burqas properly) with long sticks. Theft was punished by the amputation of a hand, rape and murder by public execution. Married adulterers were stoned to death. In Kabul, punishments were carried out in front of crowds in the city's former soccer stadium. Fact or fiction? Human rights? You kidding me! Peaceful people? I'm afraid not! You make it very easy to label yourself as a hypocrite. Once again more negative propaganda from the enemy. The Taliban should have handed over Osama Bin Laden and his group of thugs when they had the chance!

    February 15, 2010 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Jei

    I do agree that announcing our pending moves is just allowed them migrate elsewhere. We all know that when information hits the American news stations, it hits the entire world. I'm not positive what the strategy is but I really wish the American people weren't so out of the loop. It's not our fault that our magazines tell us irrelevant details and statistics instead of pointing out 5 major cities in Afghanistan. All we can do is wait, at this point.

    February 15, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Jim

    That last statment sounds like a good plan of action for America too

    February 15, 2010 at 10:47 am | Report abuse |
  19. Thomas

    We've done this numerous times before clear out insurgent strongholds and safe havens. Until the Afghan Security Forces are willing and capable of holding the ground the taliban and insurgents will return like "thieves in the night". We are doomed to make the same mistakes as the Russians. We are not occupiers but we have been there almost as long as the Russians and what have we gained? It is a "whack a mole" senario. As of now the Afghan Security Force do not control a province without the support of the U.S. and NATO/ISAF. The Afghan people would rather be ruled by the taliban than the U.S or NATO. I am glad we have freedom of speech in America so people like Sharifullah Khan can exercise this right while his people cower and run.

    February 15, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  20. dick donnelly

    I spent two years on the ground as a company grade infantry officer in Vietnam. The US Army compilled mountains of information titled "Lessons Learned" on combat operations against insurgents. There is no such thing as a quick victory in this type of protracted warfare. The key to our success will be our ability to stay the course. Will the opinions of the people here at home,our military budget and the decisions of our dysfunctional congress allow us to see the job thru to a successful conclusion?

    February 15, 2010 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  21. Sharifullah Khan

    Haha Mr. Ranger, please visit Afghanistan and Northern areas of peshawar visit any madarsa of that part of the land and observe yourself. The American bombs are the hate producers. You keep on killing innocent people and this part of the land will produce such people. When the west starts to love these innocent people there will be peace in the whole world.

    You may win any media war. Americans themselves agree to the fact the only 14 of terrorists have been killed in total killings of 687 people by drone attacks in Pakistan in the first 9 months of 2009. . These statistics can be verified by American state department. You people live in a shell keep on living there until you lose all your young and fresh innocent child blood and you get tired. Ask any of the marine who got back from the Afghanistan alive.

    In Iraq on of your soldier raped a young girl and killing the rest of the family was not ashamed of anything. Dr. Afiah siddique, an innocent mother, have been sentenced even when no charge was proved against her. Her two children are still missing. Human rights champion America.

    Many stories are still unknown my dear Mr. Ranger.

    February 15, 2010 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  22. MommaM

    As a Marine Mom I am praying for the safety of all those who serve. I trust our leaders and their decisions. I at first wondered why we knew so much information then as I read and became more informed it is part of a plan to save civilian life while ridding the area of the Taliban. From what I have been able to read and understand there is also a plan to secure the area after the battle has been won and to turn an opium producing area into one where the crops that are being produced are for the benefit of the country not to fund the Taliban and send Opium to other parts of the world. Thank goodness the leaders we have in place have a plan. Let us pray for all those who are there and hope they remain safe.

    February 15, 2010 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
  23. Texas Ranger

    In a investigative report I watched on one of the history channels, they went into one of the nearly 15,000 madrases in Pakistan. These children under the age of ten years old were chanting verses from the Koran all day long. They were teaching these kids to hate the Western Civilization and join the Jihad. Some of you bloggers think if we pull out of Afghanistan our troubles will be over. That is a incorrect and a uninformed opinion. In the interviews they talked about the desire to impose Sharia law on The West. These Madrases are mass producing Jihadist to go against the West. In other words a fresh meat-market for the Taliban. They are taught to have no religious tolerance for other cultures. When The Taliban came into power in Afghanistan one of the first goals they had were to deface The Statues of Buddha carved in a mountain. You posters can easily research these facts by going to Google World News under the topic of Afghanistan and you will have access to 1000's of articles written from every newspaper around the globe. Try Wikipedia to be informed. Don't just come onto a public forum and make wild accusations with no backup. All it makes you do is loose the debate and look like a moron. This fight will go on much longer than we all would like, but it will only end when the extremist are soundly defeated and all Muslims stand up to the extremist!

    February 15, 2010 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  24. modrate

    peace is what we want living in this beautiful world,so let's respect each other by not going to war for the sake of dirty politic who wanted dominate the power for their economy.

    February 15, 2010 at 5:37 am | Report abuse |
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