Kabul, Aug.13 (ANI): For the vast majority of troops at the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters, Afghanistan remains an enigma, a threatening land lying beyond the concertina wire of the base.
When ISAF troops venture out from their base into the "red zone" (i.e. the comparatively safe streets of Kabul) they are prepared for combat.
Barreling through the crowded streets of a city that has been called a comparative "safety zone" by those fighting in the south, they jam the phone signals of average Afghans with their ECMs (electronic counter measures) and jam the roads with their convoys.
Defeat takes the form of thousands of casualty-phobic troops ensconced behind the walls, sand bags, and blast barriers of a well-protected safety bubble.
One would think that the coalition vehicles driving around Kabul in combat posture and menacingly waving 50 caliber machine guns at Afghans were storming a Taliban sangar (trench) in Helmand, not competing with rush hour traffic.
The only Afghan most ever meet is the Hazara carpet seller on base who serves authentic Afghan food once a month. And the only coalition soldiers most Afghans meet are encased in armor-plated vehicles or flak jackets.
Only a small percentage of "fobbits" (those who live in forward operating bases or FOBs) actually interact with average Afghans due to hyper-protective S.O.P. (standard operating procedures) meant to lessen their risks from interaction with Afghans.
ISAF troops suffer from a siege mentality that led the United States dangerously close to losing the war in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. U.S. forces in Iraq were more concerned with force protection than protecting the center of gravity in Iraq, the Iraqi people.
It was only when Generals Petraeus and Odierno pushed their troops out of the bases and into the streets of Iraq that they began to make headway in the counterinsurgency.
This meant more meetings with Iraqi people, who began to feel that the Americans were protecting them.
For the most part, the coalition has ceded the countryside of the south and parts of the east to the enemy, who took advantage of the vacuum left by enemy troops in 2003 when the U.S. was focused elsewhere.
The White House's fear of engaging in grassroots nation building allowed the Taliban to fill the void. Pro-government khans and mullahs were executed, villagers cowed into submission, and "vanguard" groups sent onto the next province to lay mines and kill "infidel collaborators." With no visible coalition presence outside of the provincial capitals, the Taliban swarmed the countryside.
Much the same thing happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s under the Soviets, who controlled the major roads and cities and remained safe in their bases for fear of sustaining casualties.
The U.S. Marines' recent efforts to clear and hold territory in Helmand Province represent a welcome break from this barracked mentality.
It is only by establishing a reliable coalition presence in contested places like Helmand that the coalition can show the Afghans that they are there to stay and protect them. (ANI)