* By H.D.S. Greenway The Boston Globe *
‘MOWING THE grass’’ is the term frustrated soldiers use to describe the war in Afghanistan. America and its NATO allies sweep in and clear an area. But, once they leave, the Taliban creep back like weeds in the lawn and the allies have to mow it all over again.
The Soviets felt the same frustration. Their firepower was superior, but they were never able to keep the Mujahideen from growing back. So it was with the British who kept mowing the Afghan grass for the better part of 100 years – sending armies in again and again, but never to lasting effect.
It is ever thus with these kinds of wars. Think of the Israelis who have been mowing the Palestinian grass for more than 40 years, with the last major cutting in Gaza in 2007.
In Indochina, Americans churned over the same area again and again for more years than it took armies and navies to sweep across Europe and the Pacific in WWII, but, as it was for the French before them, never succeeding in keeping the grass trimmed.
The battle for the Afghan town of Marja is being hyped as if it were the battle of Stalingrad. There was never doubt that NATO would force the Taliban out. A contemporary British account of frontier in the last century said of the Pashtun-fighting man: “When he stayed and defended something, whether a gun or a village, we trapped him and pulverized him. When he flitted and sniped, rushed and ran away, we felt we were using a crowbar to swat wasps.’’
General Stanley McCrystal wants to put an end to grass mowing. He plans to hold Marja and has brought in his ready-made Afghan “government in a box.’’ Can it last? And what of other Marjas? Since it would take a foreign army of many hundreds of thousands to stand on every blade of grass – a force level we will never see – the war will continue.
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