By John J. Kruzel American Forces Press Service
July 9, 2009 - A key measurement of success in Afghanistan will be the attitude of Afghans affected by U.S.-led operations, the military's second-ranking military officer said today. Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan elevates the civilian population as a main determinant of success or failure, much as it did in Iraq.
"I believe personally that one of our key metrics for success will be over the next few months to see whether or not there is a shift in the attitude of the local residents," Cartwright said. The committee is considering the general's reappointment. Cartwright fleshed out the "clear, hold, build" strategy unde way in Afghanistan. The latter elements of the strategy emphasize the role civilians play in establishing stability.
Articulating how local attitudes could be gauged, Cartwright said a favorable view of U.S. and multinational forces could come in the form Afghans providing intelligence or other resources. "If they start supporting us with intelligence, with the giving of their own sons and daughters in the fight, and that they see there is more value in being able to produce crops rather than warriors, and that they can be sustained in that type of a lifestyle, then we will have an opportunity to turn the corner," he said.
The general advised that the Marines engaged in a joint operation with Afghan forces in the Helmand River valley pay attention to the sentiment in villages and towns they operate in. Now in its eighth day, some 4,000 Marines and 650 Afghan security forces are engaged in Operation Khanjar, which translates to "Strike of the Sword" the biggest military offensive since President Barack Obama announced a new Afghanistan strategy in March.
"I think those are key metrics that we have to watch as the Marines move into Helmand, and followed by the [Army's] Strykers as they move in on their flank," Cartwright said.
At a briefing with Pentagon reporters yesterday, the commander overseeing the operation described how the interaction between U.S. Marines and local Afghans are playing out.
Anticipating that local residents would be curious about the Marines' intentions, Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, established a requirement: Company commanders must hold a "shura," or meeting, with local elders within one day of arriving.
"The focus of this operation from the very beginning has been on the people, not the enemy," Nicholson said. "And I know that may sound very strange, and I got some raised eyebrows, even with talking to Marines. On the way, we'll take care of the Taliban. But get to the people." The "clear" phase of the three-stage approach refers to the type of mission the Marines undertook when Operation Khanjar launched, with the brigade fanning out across the southern Afghanistan region during the early morning hours of July 2. The strategy was two-fold: overwhelm opposing forces while saving civilian lives. Current operations in Helmand are fundamentally different from previous missions, in that Marines are remaining behind to protect those villages as the remainder of forces moves through, Cartwright said. He added that forces have been successful in avoiding civilian casualties in the ongoing "clear" phase. "Our approach here is to win their hearts and minds," Cartwright said. "And we can't do that by having unnecessary civilian casualties."