Now that things have settled down a bit, I thought it was time to visit the operation in Marjah. I am going to stay away from the Tactical side and try to work the Operational side. First, a quick overview.
First thing is to understand the context of the operation in light of how we got here, why now, and its place in the larger Operational Design.
Geographically, the reason to move into this part of Afghanistan and Helmand is obvious from orbit. See that rare swath of green in the satellite photo on the upper right? That is the area around Marjah. Where you find green, you find people. Where you find people, you find your Center of Gravity.
Now look at the close-up picture on the left. For those who have followed the AFG campaign for the last couple of years, I have put a couple of names up there to jog your memory and put Marjan in context of the campaign for the Helmand River Valley from the "Fishhook" in the south moving up to Marjan, Lashkar Gah, Sangin, on to the Kajaki Dam to the NE, and then the heart of Uruzgan Province where the Dutch and Aussie play.
If you remember back in '08 with the 24th MEU first stuck its toe in the waters in Helmand, this is a logical progression in Helmand. The British and other allies in "Helmandshire," the Danes and Estonians mostly, never had the forces they needed to properly secure the population in Helmand. As the USMC arrived in late '08 and through '09 as part of the US forces uplift, there were finally the right density of forces to do what was long been understood needed to be done.
This area is "Indian Country," a large internal safe-haven for the Taliban. Though everyone knew that COIN 101 did not allow large internal safe-havens, without the forces needed to clear them out - you just had to deal with it. There are other safe-havens in AFG - but you can't get them all --- all in due time.
You also need to keep in mind that this goes well back into '07 and was refined and established in '08 by Gen. McKiernan in the framework of "Shape, Clear, Hold, Build" (SCHB).
Let's go back to SCHB (you can also see it defined as Shape, Clear, Hold, Build, and Transfer). What you are seeing in Marjan is the end of Shaping and the main body of Clearing. Those are the easy parts. What comes next is the Holding and Building.
That is where number of forces come into play. This is where we as military professionals tried & failed. At the in-theater Operational side of the house; McChrystal's predecessor McKiernan, and McKiernan's predecessor McNeill - and on the Strategic side of the house Stavridis' predecessor Craddock; all failed to push the political side of the NATO house to admit that there was not enough and produce. They all tried - and in a fashion McKiernan succeeded in getting additional forces. But it took too long as IRQ needed to be fixed first and we put too much faith in NATO keeping its word.
As a result, things got away from us a bit. When we realized that it was time to take back the keys - something covered here through '08 and '09 - we knew that it would take 18 months to get enough additional forces to start to repair the damage. The Taliban grew - their safe-havens got stronger. The job got harder.
Did we pivot in time? I think so, if, and I repeat, if we have the strategic patience to do what needs to be done. This is at least a decade long process. We cannot go home starting in JUL 11 at the same rate we started going home from Iraq in late '08. AFG is not IRQ. No more than Long Island is Mississippi. Actually, Long Island and Mississippi are twin brothers compared to AFG and IRQ.
Watch Marjan and then watch the next move from there. Don't get caught up in the tactical part of the story too much - that leads to short-term thinking. The Marjan operation will take years to go through the SCHB process. There will be more Marjans.
Our Marines in the South, Army in the East, and the scattering of allies about the country can and will do their job if our Center of Gravity will hold. Where the Operational Center of Gravity for the Taliban and NATO is the people of Afghanistan - remember where our Strategic Center of Gravity is - Washington DC for the USA and Brussels for NATO (throw in Islamabad for AfPak if you must).
We will win Marjan at the Tactical and Operational - but it will be for nothing if the Political-Strategic collapses.