An update on Afghanistan

If mentioning my friends is beginning to sound like I’m congratulating myself on my own popularity, I apologize. As it happens, however, one of my good friends is about to ship out to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and some of my old friends in the Air Force ROTC are about to be commissioned as officers,  so I thought it would be a good idea to briefly survey the situation facing US/NATO/Afghan troops.

For about the last eight years, the U.S. force in Afghanistan has basically been maintaining a holding action. Recently that has changed with a series of offensives, notably including the battle for Marjah.

Marjah is, according to the geopolitical experts at STRATFOR.com, “perhaps the quintessential example of a good location from which to base.” It’s in the heart of Taliban-dominated Helmand province and very close to Kandahar, Afghanistan’s “second city.” It’s also a religious center and the birthplace of the Taliban.

Some soldiers in Afghanistan cavalierly refer to enemy combatants as "Hadji," the character (above) from the sixties cartoon Jonny Quest. These soldiers are mistaken, however, as Hadji is, in fact, from India, not Afghanistan.

Not to mention the heroin: Helmand province produces more heroin than any country on the planet. Some experts estimate that the heroin trade in Marjah supplies the Taliban with around $200,000 per month.

In terms of overall strategy (with the long-term goal of changing the conditions in the country to make a stable democratic government possible), the battle for Marjah is consistent with two main U.S. goals.

The first is to deny the Taliban control of poppy farming communities and large population centers, and the second is to oversee the implementation of a civilian government opposed to the Taliban.
The success or failure of the American experiment in Afghanistan is far from certain; indeed, as Bokhari, Zeihan, and Hughes wrote back in February, “the only measure that matters cannot be judged until the Afghans are left to themselves.”

In any case, whether you think we should be there or not, whether a stable, democratic Afghanistan ultimately succeeds or fails, we ought to remember and be thankful for our brave men and women who are fighting the bad guys out in some of the most remote and inhospitable areas of the world.

Semper fidelis, blessed countrymen. You are not forgotten.

Update: According to Urban Dictionary, the term “hadji,” interchangeable with “haji” and “hajji,” has its origins in “al-haj,” the traditional Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Someone who has gone on the pilgrimage is given the deferential title “hajji,” although in army slang the term has been vulgarized to refer to all middle easterners. Special thanks to “panzodanzo,” frequent commenter on this blog, for this update.

8 comments

  1. Your etymology is wrong on 'Hadji'. The term, used mostly by Marines (I've seen more often spelled 'hajji' and spell-check is confirming my suspicions), refers to someone who has gone to Mecca. But it has been generalized by the military to refer to all Muslims.

    I've heard it used this way in adjective form: "don't send me YouTube videos–I can't watch them because of the hajji [slow] Internet."

    1. Ah, good point. I heard it from a guy in the National Guard who was in Afghanistan several years ago. Thanks for clearing that up. Although I'm pretty sure more than a few soldiers are thinking of Hadji when they say "hajji."

  2. It's also worth noting that the US has historically played a major role in the heroin trade in Afghanistan, as a supplier to and protector of drug producing and smuggling allies. Anti-Soviet insurgents in Afghanistan in the 1980s had two major sources of funding: the US government and poppies. Since the US invasion of 2001, opium output has increased to 90% of the world supply. So far we haven't seen the kind Vietnam-era shenanigans with heroin being smuggled to the US in body bags, but there's little doubt that US military & intelligence are facilitating the drug trade.

    1. "Anti-Soviet insurgents in Afghanistan in the 1980s had two major sources of funding: the US government and poppies."

      And Saudi Arabia. And Pakistan. The Taliban today just have poppies. I doubt the US is facilitating the drug trade, that would simply be putting more money into the pockets of our enemies.

      1. What makes you think only "our enemies" are involved in the drug trade? The US has often found it convenient and expedient to ally with drug lords, your doubts notwithstanding.

        If there's actually any eradication going on it's not having much effect, as Afghanistan's share of the world opium supply shot up pretty dramatically after the US invasion, just like it did after the US invasion of Vietnam.

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