OK, Cameras Rolling People, And . . . ACTION!

The American military colossus arrives in a fleet of helicopters which British lack. When US Marines air assaulted into a notorious Taliban stronghold in the south of Helmand Province – far south of positions the British have struggled to hold for three years – they arrived in a fleet of Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters . . .

The US military colossus has moved into Afghanistan’s most dangerous and turbulent province, moving troops, aircraft and armoured vehicles in numbers which British commanders could only dream of through their years of frustrating battle against a determined and deadly enemy . . .

The well-supplied Americans are in stark contrast to their British brothers-in-arms, whose shortages of armoured vehicles and helicopters are the subject of political arguments at home. . .

Then on July 2, the US Marines arrived – launching their biggest helicopter-borne assault since the Vietnam War . . . After replacing British troops in central Helmand districts such as Garmsir, the American Marine commanders were careful to praise their predecessors – and the sentiment is genuine.

Commanders say they did a “great job” or they were “fantastic”. But the praise is qualified by an acknowledgement they didn’t have enough resources. “The Brits did a phenomenal job,” said one senior officer. “They didn’t have a lot of people, they were a force of maybe three or four thousand I think, and we are coming in with 10,000 Marines, so we got a lot more to do a lot more things. We just have a lot more people.”

If only it were true. It’s all nostalgic in a way. How re-assuring to have Brits marveling once again at ‘Over here, over paid and over sexed’. Very Churchillian in a pico sense. The Austrian Corporal History Channel knows how to program this narrative. Plucky Anglo-Americans riding together a wave of (relative) American tactical material abundance in one far off province to . . . victory.

Except we all know, like Col. Kilgore, ‘Hamid don’t surf, Sir!’ This elaborate military theater and psychological manipulation is aimed at both the local populace and the Mayor of Kabul’s emissaries. Most of the Taliban, especially their most valuable foreign operatives, have already withdrawn or melted away. Intentionally for both sides. We remain skeptical that once all the theatrical sturm und drang fades the ‘central government’ [sic] can exert consensual civilian control over the region to engender meaningful loyalty.

More than at any time since 2001, American and NATO soldiers will focus less on killing Taliban insurgents than on sparing Afghan civilians and building an Afghan state.

“The population is not the enemy,” Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the commander of the Marines in southern Afghanistan, told a group of troops this week. “The population is the prize — they are why we are going in.”

To realize their goals, the Americans and their allies want to capture the area with a minimum amount of violence. American commanders say the attack on Marja is intended to be nothing like the similar size assault on the city of Falluja, Iraq, in November 2004. In that case, Falluja, under the control of hundreds of insurgents, was largely destroyed. The Americans killed plenty of guerrillas, but they did not make any friends.

“We don’t want Falluja,” General McChrystal said in an interview this week. “Falluja is not the model.”

At least there’s that.