“We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in.” said triumphantly General Stanley McChrystal as the NATO operation spearheaded by British troops towards Marjah and Nad-Ali districts in Helmand Province last weekend.

It is measured to be the mother of all the tests, using millions of aid dollars to roll out a ready-made administration that intended to allow the Afghan government to quickly reassert its authority in an area where its representatives didn’t dare set foot earlier in the week. But unfortunately a “Pandora’s box” has just been opened with 12 civilian deaths and more foreseen due to Taliban using civilians as human shields.

This dangerous plan intentionally sacrifices strategic and operational surprise, and does so with good reason.  McChrystal seeks a “combination victory” in Helmand province, a victory where military success on the battlefield translates into a political and information warfare coup that will ultimately resonate throughout Afghanistan and into Pakistan’s rebellious tribal regions.

With 40 million inhabitants in the Pashtun belt and per UN estimate 4.5 million unemployed men between ages of 18 to 23 are only in Afghanistan, and one percent of that number can exceed four times the current number of NATO and Afghan troops combined and vulnerable for recruitment into insurgency. Hence, we are back to square one for another troop surge.    

Per BBC report, public in Afghanistan is widely confused because they see a recent London gathering in the name of peace and reconciliation, and then a quick military operation in Southern Afghanistan.

Next year U.S. and its allies have been in Afghanistan for a decade. There hasn’t been much progress other than installing a government led by Hamed Karzai, who is accused of being corrupt.   

No one put the warning to Mr. Obama more baldly than Karl W. Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan. Who first raised the alarm during Bush years that the American approach in Afghanistan was failing. Recently he warned Mr. Obama against putting the success of American strategy in Mr. Karzai’s less-than-reliable hands.  He wrote in a leaked cable to the State Department “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner.”  He also added; “The proposed counterinsurgency strategy assumes an Afghan political leadership that is both able to take responsibility and to exert sovereignty in the furtherance of our goal.” Moreover, “Yet Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further.”  

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Mr. Eikenberry told Congress in December that his worries have since been largely allayed, and he is now perfectly satisfied with President Obama’s strategy. But he seemed to be speaking for a wing of the Obama administration that fears the Obama’s counterinsurgency strategy could crumble in Mr. Karzai’s hands. Hence, this is an additional square one.  

The weekend NATO and Afghan troop advancement is not about the battle, it’s about the postlude, or what happens afterwards. Moreover, It will be remain to be seen if the governance effort – the first of its kind in Helmand –  expected to begin within days is going to bear fruit or not.  

Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are an audience. The essential message is brilliantly plain. They are attracted to martyrdom, and will definitely make the call that “Jihad is the way; sharia is the goal.” 

The intention is to defeat the Taliban but also embarrass them by exposing their limitations and portraying these limitations as a weakness. That leads to another local audience: Afghan civilians in the battle area.

Bearing fruit is all about winning hearts and minds, but there is the other side of the Afghan war that in many occasions the U.S. claimed to have killed Taliban, later the local governors and the United Nations have confirmed civilian deaths – including women and children.  

The Taliban typically use “human shields” as a cruel defensive measure – which means they take the populace hostage and invite attack. NATO’s insistent warnings anticipate this heinous tactic and serve as a “pre-emptive political counter” (locally, regionally and internationally) to accusations by Taliban propagandists that the U.S. intentionally killed Afghan civilians that engages into a deep cultural and psychological dimension.

So far we have already seen the opposite which Gen. Petraeus said by testifying before the U.S. Congress: “We cannot kill our way to victory in Afghanistan.”

Hence, intentional or unintentional killing is undefined to average Afghans.

Khalil Nouri is the cofounder of New World Strategies Coalition Inc., a native think tank for nonmilitary solution studies for Afghanistan.

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