Battle for Marjah: The US Has Already Lost

Published on Thursday, February 18, 2010 by

by Dave Lindorff

The fighting is still underway in the town of Marjah, in what is being
described as the first battle in Obama’s War in Afghanistan, or
alternatively as the biggest battle of the US War in Afghanistan. But
already, the US has lost that battle.

It lost it from day one,
when troops fired missiles in to a Marjah house, killing 12 civilian
occupants–half of them children. And it lost it further when another
three more civilians were blown away by US-led forces. Finally, it lost
the battle as much of the town has been simply destroyed by the

The supposed goal of the assault on Marjah was to
demonstrate that the US would bring the wonders of good government and
peace to the Pashtun tribal people who have endured a generation or
more of war, and who have been living under the "cruel tyranny" of the
Taliban in recent years. The new strategy of President Barack Obama and
his hand-picked military leader in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley
McChrystal, was to show that the US military could fight the Taliban
without causing civilian deaths and casualties. Protecting civilian
lives would be a priority, they claimed.

The problem with such a
strategy is that the whole reason American forces have been able to
crush resistance, as they did in the lighting invasion of Iraq in 2003,
or the overthrow of the Taliban government of Afghanistan in late 2001,
has been their callous disregard for civilian lives, which have been
coldly labelled "collateral damage."

In the war in Iraq, and
in Afghanistan until recently at least, the American war-fighting style
has been for troops to go into an area, seeking to draw enemy fire, and
then to call in long-range artillery or air support, and simply blow up
the area with heavy explosives, devastating anti-personnel bombs that
shower an area in flesh-shredding flechettes, burning white phosphorus
projectiles, and a brutal rain of machine-gun fire from fixed-wing and
helicopter gunships. Inevitably with such tactics, countless innocent
men, women and children get killed and maimed.

In Iraq, US
forces ended up killing far, far more civilians than actual enemy
fighters thanks to this approach. While information about deaths in the
Afghan War is harder to come by, it is likely that the same holds true
there also. In addition to the well-known incidents, where air strikes
have been called in which ended up butchering entire wedding parties in
both Iraq and Afghanistan, or where farm families engaged in routine
activties have been blown away thinking they were terrorists, US forces
have for years thought nothing about assaulting compounds and killing
the inhabitants, innocent civilians or not, children or adults, if it
was thought that even one "terrorist" was in the building at the time.

Such tactics, reminiscent of what years ago used to be attributed to
vicious military regimes like the German Nazis or the Imperial
Japanese, have become the norm for US forces, as has the tactic of
"spray and pray," under which US forces, if they take fire or feel
threatened, simply unload all their weapons in every direction, killing
every living thing within range, including people who might be seeking
shelter behind mud walls of their homes.

These tactics, while
criminal in the extreme under the Geneva Conventions, which require
that civilians in any conflict be protected, do work in the short term,
which is why American forces have prevailed in their initial assaults.
But long-term, they inevitably become self-defeating, since they only
turn a population into bitter enemies, many with an understandable
desire for vengeance.

Thus, the "new" strategy of trying to minimize civilian casualties.

But once US troops are denied their air support, and are barred by
commanders from simply blowing away buildings from which they are
taking enemy fire, because of fears that there may be civilians in
those buildings, US forces lose any advantage they may have had over
local enemy fighters. It becomes a battle of guns vs. guns and person
vs. person, and becomes more of a case of who is more willing to die.

Clearly the Taliban then gains an edge. Its fighters, or at least many
of them, believe they are fighting for Allah, or for their country’s
survival and independence, or for both, and they are willing to die for
those causes. What are American forces fighting for in Afghanistan?
Hard to say. I suspect many, if asked, would say they have no idea.
Some, I’m sure, would say they are "defending America" if asked thanks
to their indoctrination, but I also suspect that as they survey the
primitive society in which they are fighting, and see the poverty of
the people, they will have a hard time perceiving Afghanistan as any
kind of threat to their own country or families. Some may say they’re
avenging the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "by Al
Qaeda" in 2001, but then, even the US government admits that the
foreign fighters of Al Qaeda have long ago left Afghanistan, and no
Taliban were involved in the 9-11 attacks. So it’s hard to see American
troops being willing to die for these trumped up "causes." I suspect,
again, that most US troops are understandably trying really hard mainly
to make sure they don’t get hurt or killed.

And that’s why, in
the end, the US is losing this war. It’s why those deadly Himars
rockets were fired and why air assaults are being called in after all
in Marjah, and why civilians are again being slaughtered by American
forces in this battle.

It’s why, despite promises to the contrary from Gen. McChrystal and Commander in Chief Obama, the town is being wrecked.

And in the end, it will be all for naught, since the US is supporting a
wholly corrupt and criminal regime in Kabul which will not follow up
the ultimate "victory" in Marjah with some kind of honest and
well-functioning government in the destroyed city.

We will no
doubt see some photogenic reconstruction in Marjah when the fighting
subsides. We’ll see some demonstration projects which will be dutifully
praised by the journalistic shills flown in by Pentagon flaks. But the
people of Marjah will remember the destruction of their town, and will
remember their neighbors and relatives who were killed. And when the
Taliban return to the town, as they inevitably will after the Americans
withdraw or draw down, they will probably be welcomed, or at least

The reality is that America cannot prevail in
Afghanistan except by applying the massive, oppressive power of its
military killing machine, with its robotic rocket-firing drone
aircraft, its bombers and attack aircraft, its fixed-wing and
helicopter gunships, its indiscriminate anti-personnel weapons, and its
massive bombs. It cannot prevail, in other words, without terrorizing
the population.

And even then, in the end, it cannot succeed.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at

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