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Army Sees Marjah Offensive as a Model for Afghan Military Strategy

February 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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After Friday's deadly suicide bombing in Kabul, Judy Woodruff spoke with Army Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges in Kandahar about coalition strategies in the region.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: more on that allied operation in Helmand Province.

Earlier today, I talked with U.S. Army Brigadier General Ben Hodges of the Southern Region Command in Kandahar.

General Ben Hodges, thank you very much for talking with us.

Let me just begin by asking you if the fight for Marjah is over.

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES, U.S. Army: I think that the fighting is going to continue for a few more weeks, as the Marines and British soldiers and Afghan army and police continue to clear out the remaining villages and agricultural areas where we don’t yet completely dominate.

I think that the majority of the enemy has either been killed or or driven out or blended back into the population. There were certainly indicators as we were getting ready to commence this operation that a lot of the Taliban senior leadership were trying to get away from there, because what was coming was pretty much inevitable.

There will be some sporadic fighting, I believe, some tough areas where there are still a few holdouts. But I think most of the significant combat operations, though, will have subsided.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You mention that the Taliban has either left the area or faded into the population. What new have you learned about the tactics and the skills of the Taliban through this whole exercise?

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES: The insurgency, really, you need to think about that as 80 percent little-T. Taliban, 20 percent capital-T. Taliban. In other words, a fifth or less are probably full-fledged, ideologically-motivated Taliban insurgents.

The vast majority are people who, for whatever reason, are fighting against the Afghan government, against the coalition. Sometimes, it’s because they have been intimidated they have been intimidated, or out of fear, or they get paid, or their own governments give them no reason to resist the Taliban when the Taliban comes in to their village.

So, that was pretty much confirmed. We thought that was the case going in, and that was pretty much confirmed during the the last couple of weeks, as lots of people chose not to fight. And, in fact, a large part of the population, when it became obvious that we were coming there in force and had intended to stay, they quickly started pointing out weapons caches, IEDs, in huge numbers.

So, it is it’s important to realize that the Taliban is not a grassroots movement, and it’s n

ot a popular people’s uprising. The Taliban have never provided clean water or education or fixed roads. The only thing they do is scare the hell out of people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You said that the Taliban is not a grassroots force, and, yet, what one reads in the press here in the United States is that many of the Afghan people say they prefer the Taliban in some ways to local government officials, who they don’t trust.

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES: Well, that’s true.

The burden is on the Afghan government to demonstrate that it can provide relatively corruption-free basic services. And the expectations of people here in the south are not real high. Our goal has always been to help find a district governor and a district chief of police who can deliver those basic services, like water, roads, some health care, and, in this 99 percent agricultural economy, a road distribution network, freedom of movement for Afghans, that will enable them to take what could be hugely productive agriculture areas to market.

JUDY WOODRUFF: U.S. officials, General, say that Afghans are being brought in even from outside the country to take government jobs in Marjah, including the new mayor.

And I gather he is an Afghan who has been living in Germany for 15 years. Why is this being done, and how are these people being chosen?

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES: The selection of who is coming in to take government positions, of course, is the decision of the Afghan government.

Haji Zahir, who is coming in to be the sub-district governor in Marjah, I think, has lived in Germany before. Certainly, that is not unusual. Iraq and Afghanistan, you have a lot of expatriates who didn’t want to stay under just like in Iraq, that didn’t want to stay under the Saddam regime.

Certainly, you have Afghans who went to Canada or Europe or the U.S. because they didn’t want to live under either the Taliban or previous warlord-type situations. And, so, now they’re they have come back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: General Hodges, is what we’re seeing in Marjah a model for what you would like to do in other parts of Afghanistan, as you try to root out the Taliban? Is this going to work elsewhere?

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES: That’s a that’s a great question. And that’s exactly what we want to do.

And the model is not just hundreds of British and U.S. soldiers and Marines and Afghan troops. It is also in fact, more importantly, it’s about governance.

Two things that we did differently during this Operation Moshtarak, which means “together” in Dari, what we have done differently from the past is, number one, we started with governance in the lead, with the Afghan government, started with the provincial governor, Governor Mangal, with President Karzai, with the minister of interior, minister of defense, them providing the leadership, them setting the political context, so that, when security forces were brought in, you already had the shuras at the provincial and district level ready to help take control, and also, in fact, to explain to the locals what we were trying to do.

So, there was no surprise when this operation was launched, other than the exact date and time and method of coming in. We want to do the same thing, as we shift our focus to the east, to Kandahar. Kandahar city is the center of gravity for the Pashtuns. Spiritually, politically, historically, it has always been the most important part of Afghanistan.

Certainly, throughout Afghan history, it is the center of gravity. So, we are going to head to Kandahar in a big way in coming months.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To wrap up, now that the Marjah operation is largely complete, where is your next main focus there in Afghanistan?

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES: Sure.

I do want to emphasize that we think that most of the kinetic operations are are going to be complete, but we’re going to be clearing IEDs and the mines out of that area for quite some time. The police are still just getting in there. We’re getting into a situation where the police can provide a lot of the security.

So, that’s going to go on for several weeks. And, of course, the governor, Governor Mangal, working very hard to get district and provincial level governance into that area, is just under way. That will always take a lot more time than the the military portion of this.

We think it will be two or three months before we know for sure that the clear has really taken root and that the hold phase is well under way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Brigadier-General Ben Hodges, we thank you very much for joining us. Thank you.

BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGESrong>: It was my pleasure and my honor. Thank you.< >< >< >< ><-->