July 25th, 2010
04:00 PM ET

Holbrooke: Too early to gauge Marjah success

It would be inaccurate to call the U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan's Marjah district a failure, and yet it's too early to call it a success, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan told CNN Sunday.

"What's happening in Marjah is that the U.S. military and NATO went into one of the most difficult areas of the country, one of the bellies of the insurgency, displaced the Taliban and settled in," Richard Holbrooke told CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS."

"The people are pleased with this," he said. "This was an area called 'Little America' in the Kennedy and Johnson era. They remember the Americans. We came in with agricultural support and seed. And we broke up big drug bazaars. So a tremendous amount of gain occurred immediately.

"I met with the tribal leaders and the Shura and they said, 'Thank you for coming.' But they also said three important things - we risked our lives to come here today; we must have agricultural assistance; and we must have security.'"

The United States can't provide that security indefinitely, he said, and will have to train the Afghan police and army to replace them. Such a "clear, hold and build" strategy is "at the heart of counterinsurgency," Holbrooke said. "It's not accurate to say Marjah's a failure and it's premature to say Marjah's a success."

Asked if offensives are being postponed because the Taliban has proven stronger than expected, Holbrooke told Zakaria, "Marjah was not postponed. It's simply that the transfer of security authority from the Marines to the Afghans is going slower than some of the more optimistic projections at the outset. This doesn't surprise me. As a general rule in Afghanistan, things go slower than are expected."

The Marjah offensive, known as Operation Moshtarak, was launched in February by an international coalition of 15,000 troops including Afghans, Americans, Britons, Canadians, Danes and Estonians.

The Taliban had set up a shadow government in Helmand province's Marjah region, long a bastion of pro-Taliban sentiment. It is a key area in Afghanistan's heroin trade and full of the opium used to fund the insurgency.

Last month, Gen. David Petraeus - the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan - said Operation Moshtarak is not going as well "as the most optimistic (initial) predictions." While progress is being made, it has been harder and slower than anticipated, Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing.

Zakaria pointed out that Holbrooke gained international fame by negotiating with Slodoban Milosevic in the Balkans, and asked why similar negotiations cannot be undertaken with the Taliban.

"There's a huge difference between the head of an established government and some crazed terrorists who are hiding in the tribal areas of Afghanistan," Holbrooke said. "Among the Taliban leadership there are some people who are reconcilable and some (who) are not. The United States has had no direct contact with any of the Taliban leadership, but we read constantly, we hear constantly of other groups in touch. We support a policy in which the Afghan government of President (Hamid) Karzai takes the lead.

Asked about a previous quote in which he said that people in administrations "sit in a room. They don't air their real differences," Holbrooke said that "does not apply to this administration" and the quote stemmed from "my experience starting as a young diplomat 25 years old in the Lyndon Johnson White House."

"None of that exists in this administration," he said. "The relationships are extraordinarily good at the highest levels. However, there are individuals who have their own agendas and so on, but those games are mercifully not present in this administration."

Meanwhile, he said a dialogue has begun between Pakistan's national army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, and Karzai. "That is a good thing, not a bad thing," he said. "As long as they had no dialogue, you couldn't get anywhere."

"We have a policy here which is to try to reduce the gap between Islamabad and Kabul, a historic gap which goes back to the independence of Pakistan 63 years ago, and to make them work together for a common objective while taking into account the strategic interests of India and other regional neighbors. And that is moving forward. It's a tough, difficult policy. But it is the only one that meets our regional and international/national security interests.

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Filed under: Marjah • Operation Moshtarak
soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. doug denunzio

    patient and being patient are key to successes.

    July 29, 2010 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel-2

      I'm feeling impatient bring on the drones!

      July 29, 2010 at 4:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. doug denunzio

    indeed the problem isn't from a perspective of right or wrong more so a problem with independent nations from other ways of thinking.

    July 29, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  3. doug denunzio

    in a way early to gauge given the treatments in india with medical needs behind them.

    July 29, 2010 at 10:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. The other Steve

    I don't understand why the writers of articles such as this avoid talking to MARINES who were actually there on the ground. Holbrooke doesn't know crap and has spent what... a day or two in Marjah (under intense security)? How about talking to the guys who are in the bush day in and day out... dealing with ambushes, IED's, and snipers. Why aren't there more articles detailing the ridiculous "rules of engagement" that are in place, and how it's hampering our efforts in Afghanistan? Instead, we hear pathetic answers from Holbrooke about how it's too early to gauge success. He may be right or wrong, but there will be no success in the future if they keep handling the situation the way that they are now (pretty much forgetting that the operation ever happened).

    July 29, 2010 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
  5. The_Mick

    As a recently released tape strongly hinted, al-Qaeda's strategy is to keep America bogged down in expensive wastes of resources to continue to drag down its economy power and ability to respond to threats. We need to get somewhat ruthless to avoid this trap. Instead of invading a nation which will never be a true ally to us -Afghanistan won't even let citizens convert to Christianity- we should give them a list of 5-10 of their largest cities and tell them to evacuate them all because we're going to flatten one. We then pick one (they can't defend them all) and reduce it to absolute rubble with conventional bombs. We then say, support terrorism against us again and it will be two cities next time.

    July 26, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. StarChamber

    Holbrooke – Bilderberg, CFR
    Petraeus – CFR, Top 100 Global Thinkers (2009)
    Zakaria – CFR, Top 100 Global Thinkers (2009)

    Who cares what any of these globalists think? All they do is write articles about each other so they can make more money and get appointed to another position in order to serve David Rockefeller and friends.

    July 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Nightmare Feeler

    Can't you people see it's a wars term of a tie that their in!

    July 26, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jitendra

    Kabul's intelligence agencies blame the ISI for its woes, India has a similar position, also, American commanders on the ground are not very fond of this organisation either. Kyani was its boss earlier and is its patron saint now. Therefore no genuine and lasting solution can be found as long as Kyani remains the voice of Pakistan.

    If America is to make headway in the region it must find ways to take out the ISI as a factor in the AfPak equation.

    July 26, 2010 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • atal

      How does it feel to be one of the hinderer's (paki)?

      July 29, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • dindy Sri lanka

      I would answer you in a better way but then I have show you who I am . Also why I support soldiers and not any suicide bombers from Devil

      September 1, 2010 at 2:06 am | Report abuse |
  9. Smith in Oregon

    Too early to gauge the success? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? The US Military already declared success and proceeded the McChrystal cookie cutter approach with their 'shake and bake' Karzai linked Afghanistan Police, Regional Governors on Khandahar. Is Holbrooke openly declaring Gen. McChrystal was a absolute idiot? Only a absolute idiot would clone a strategy that didn't fully work as the same strategy to use and implement in Khandahar with American lives at risk if it failed! Why haven't they declared success in Khandahar? The clock is ticking for the removal of the surge troops and American troops leaving the Middle East.

    July 26, 2010 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
  10. Daniel-2

    Let's go by the success the Germans had in occupying France during WW2 or Holland,Norway,Belgium,Poland,etc.and that should give us some insight.

    July 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |

      They probably would've been successful had it not been for the Russian army.NATO's great advantage today is that they don't have Russian army standing in their way like the Germans did.

      July 25, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
      • Grimlock

        And, you know, the Allies. France wasn't "liberated" by the Red Army, nor was Holland, nor was Norway, nor was Belgium.

        July 26, 2010 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
  11. Andrew Lubin

    what a shame to read such comments. CNN posts an interesting article, yet most of the responses are profane and remarkably ignorant. Be you Muslim. Christian, or another, there is no cause to stoop to such shameful. low levels.

    July 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
  12. dindy Sri lanka

    world is my home and I have seen all over and loved it. May all the people on earth have freedom and peace soon and please God let all the remaining brave servicemen to see their families soon.!!!!after the victory they deserve.

    July 25, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Andrew Lubin

    Mr Holbrooke should spend some time talking with the Marines who are fighting in Marjah instead of giving half-ass answers to Farid Zakaria. Disappointing that Holbrooke prefers to talk to the Afghans rather than the Marines before making such prounouncements,

    Having just returned from an embed in Marjah with 3rdBn, 6th Marines, the accurate answer would be "the Marjah campaign is far from completed. It's a work-in-progress, and the trends are very positive..." Or at least that's what I experienced in my extensive boots-on-the-ground time in KES, which is what senior Marine leadership confirmed later.

    And the locals are worried that they risked their lives attending a shura? Then perhaps they can join the Afghan Army or Afghan Police and begin to take ownership of the situation. It's not just "Clear-Hold-Build", it's "Clear-Hold-Build-Transition" – and the Marines need a lot more Afghan involvement to make this work.

    Incidentally, the Danes and Estonians supported the Marines in Now Zad in December, not Marjah in February. Operation Moshtarak was a Marine-British-Canadian-Afghan operation.

    July 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • alf67

      You want the same land as India. You are no more right than they are so get over it.

      July 25, 2010 at 10:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • marinemom

      andrew -in response to your first post. Thank you for the service and sacrifice. You and your fellow Marines have my utmost respect and support. My son is part of the battallion that relieved the 3/6 in Marjah and each day we hope for this to end so that he and the others can come home safely. I alos agree that it is a shame that the comments are so profane and filled with hate. I make it a practice not to post or engage when there are comments of that nature as they do nothing but perpetuate the hatred. This world is too big now for to hate everyone who is different than ourselves. I guess that's why this war continues and more will happen.

      July 26, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |