By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2, 2010 – The insurgency in southwestern Afghanistan is down to its “last card in the deck,” the top military commander in the region said today, citing Taliban cash flow problems and manning issues.
A blight that impacted last year’s poppy harvest and government initiatives in Helmand province to encourage growth of other crops have left insurgents there with “less than one-half of what they had last year in operating funds,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills told Pentagon reporters during a video news conference from his Afghanistan headquarters.
Government programs have helped cut down poppy production locally, while coalition efforts are interdicting the “rat lines” the insurgents use to smuggle money and weapons in and heroin out, Mills explained.
Such efforts, he said, have “significantly disrupted” the Taliban’s supply system and has adversely impacted recruiting.
Those factors “significantly deprive the insurgency of the money they so desperately need to operate,” Mills said.
In Marja, a farming town in Helmand known for being a long-time insurgent stronghold, Taliban forces are struggling to hold their ground, Mills said. Marja was simply a “drug center,” he said, and without poppy the Taliban have nothing to offer local residents.
The Taliban, Mills said, are desperate and are using scare tactics and threats in an attempt to cow the local populace. But residents, he said, are fighting back and rejecting Taliban ideals.
The Taliban’s “last card in the deck is not playing very well, which is simply murder and intimidation,” the general said. “It has not convinced the people of Marja. They are looking at a better way of life.”
However, U.S. Marines remain engaged in a tough fight in Marja, and Taliban forces won’t give up easily, he said.
“[Marja] was his treasury; he can’t give that up,” Mills said of the Taliban’s desire to retain Marja. “He gives that up, and he can’t afford to conduct the insurgency. He can’t give up Marja without a fight, and he hasn’t.”
Insurgents have turned to hit-and-run tactics to conserve their forces and ammunition, Mills said, noting the number of improvised explosive devices being used against his troops is fewer now than last spring. Also, IEDs are becoming less sophisticated, he added.
Meanwhile, Afghan army and police are becoming more and more capable, Mills said, noting he’s impressed with their abilities and efforts. Recruiting for and training of Afghan forces, he added, is going well, and their overall progress is at the right pace.
Turning back to Marja, Mills called the campaign there a work in progress.
“I’m very proud of the progress we’ve made there, but we still have a ways to go,” he said.