People often call the conflict in Afghanistan “The Forgotten War,” a broad statement that misses the point on why the going has been so slow, 8 years this October, and why, until recently, there has been little spoken of it. Afghanistan was not forgotten so much as poorly-remembered; picked up and dusted off whenever pundits and politicians saw use in it: whether to compare it to its brother-war in Iraq, held up as an example of International Cooperation, or used as a simple prop by those in need of a beacon of “success” in the region.
But Afghanistan’s long stint as the unquiet backwater of global conflict has drawn to a close. Events in Pakistan, Iran, and elsewhere have prompted a reevaluation of the strategies used by NATO forces in the country, and for the first time in years all eyes are on Afghanistan.
There are chinks in the looking-glass though, after so much time focused on Iraq, there is a strong desire to view this conflict through the same lens. Any appreciable amount of time spent looking at Afghanistan dispels any hope of this strategy’s success, and a new method, a new language must be formed if any measure of success is to be gained. After a time the war was boiled down into 3 basic elements: the goings-on in the Kabul, the east, and the south.
For much of the past 8 years the focus has been on Karzai’s government and the fighting in the mountains to the east. After all, Afghanistan’s future is dependent on the strength of Kabul, and its present security relied on some semblance of peace in the east. For a long time this worked, for a long time this focus, this language, was how the war was fought, and for the most part it worked.
The south was not entirely out of mind, for while the east held the fighters, the south held the wealth; poppy fields, providing most of the raw crop for the world’s heroin, and most of the money for Taliban forces. The Taliban was born in the south, and when the NATO forces ousted them from their seat of power they fled: to the east, over the mountains, and to the south, among the poppy-bulbs and sand.
They were not idle, and time did little to diminish the threat, despite the best efforts of the British forces in control of the area. The will was there but the focus: manpower, material, and means, was not. In the south the Taliban grew patiently, quietly, a coiled snake that hissed at an empty desert, biting when it could, but attracting scant attention.
Until now that is. 21,000 US troops have been mobilized for Afghanistan, and the bulk of those will be sent to the south. The men and women of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade will be leading the way, and Ontheline will be following their deployment. The focus has shifted and the summer has come, it is fighting season in Afghanistan, and both sides, Marines and Taliban, are ready.