Marines expect to shake things up in Afghanistan

Times:

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Colonel Pete Petronzio, the Marine commander, said that his forces would be used to disrupt Taleban communication lines, where wounded fighters and opium are moved south to the Pakistani border and arms and money are moved north. The Marines are expected to deploy in northern Helmand later, where they will fight alongside British Forces but come under the direct control of General McNeill, the four-star US general in Kabul. “We want to throw some rocks in the stream and see where the water goes,” Colonel Petronzio said.

The extra US force in the south will make it easier for the Americans to press their allies to adopt common tactics, primarily those refined over the past few years by US forces, against the Taleban and other groups.

In particular, General McNeill said that he would like to see British troops double their six-month tour of duty to one year because the longer US deployments had helped to fight a war where knowledge of the local population was a key to winning their support and distancing them from militants.

For the same reason, he also would like Britain and other Nato allies to rotate the same units to Afghanistan, as US forces were doing.

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There are even more serious differences over how to contain Afghanistan’s growing poppy production. Last year the Americans pushed for eradication in Nangarhar province, where the local governor arrested growers and destroyed crops. Flying over the area this weekend it was clear that farmers had switched to wheat this season. By contrast, the fertile Helmand valley is carpeted with poppies and can expect another bumper crop. Teams of labourers were in the fields lancing and scraping the bulbs to extract the opium.

In addition, the Americans want the British to copy the success of their military-led aid efforts in eastern Afghanistan, where a $280 million (£140 million) reconstruction project is credited with winning over the local population. Colonel Mark Johnstone, deputy commander of US forces in eastern Afghanistan, said that the Commander’s Emergency Response Programme, which has built roads, schools and clinics, was the most powerful weapon in his armoury. “It is our nuclear weapon. It is awesome — it really works,” he said. “I pity other Nato countries that have not used it for the past six years.”


The British could help themselves by stopping the poppy production. The Taliban trade the product for weapons to kill the Brits with in Afghanistan while the Russian mafia sells the dope to junkies in the UK. It is more than passing strange that they have done little to stop the poppy production and get the farmers to plant food crops where they could make more money.

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