July 8, 2010

If you haven't been watching Rachel Maddow's stellar reporting on Afghanistan, get thee to The Maddow Blog and watch the clips there. Her remarkable reports are worth every second of the time you spend to watch.

This is the first time I've seen a journalist really try to get beyond the basics of the Afghan war and into the details of what our military is actually doing, what they hope to accomplish, and how they're going about accomplishing it. Rachel Maddow is hardly a hawk, so part of the remarkable quality of her reporting is seeing her come to an understanding that much of what's being done involves helping people, not killing them.

This clearly doesn't fit the story they want to tell on The Today Show. Watch the video as Rachel is questioned about the July deadline and the supposed "delayed Kandahar strategy."

Maddow's answers are clear: You're not going to see a war movie in Kandahar, and the deadline is an absolute necessity to keep pressure on the Afghan government to get in line and work to get the people they govern on board. But watch Ann Curry try to get her to get all rah-rah about combat and the deadline.

CURRY: In fact, let's talk about that. It's a year from now that the US troops are scheduled to leave. We're 104 months into this war, Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. June was the deadliest month in the war with 60 Americans killed, Rachel. And so is this president's deadline of leaving a year from now, beginning to withdraw a year from now, actually realistic?

Translated: FOX thinks a deadline is foolish. Don't you think so too, Rachel?

And Rachel's answer is perfect, because it's the truth and it makes sense. That July deadline isn't just there for show:

MADDOW: There have been a lot of critics who have said that that deadline doesn't make sense in terms of military strategy. But I think that's only true if you think of war, this kind of war, as if it's some kind of D-Day every day. It's really not like that. Counterinsurgency doesn't look like that. The point of this counterinsurgency strategy is to set up an Afghan government so that Afghanistan is essentially hardened against the Taliban coming back into power and against them link -- them -- Afghanistan again linking up with these extremist groups. The deadline is not for military strategy in pure military terms. The deadline is so the Afghan government feels like they've really got to get their act together and stand up and get it done. I have to tell you that, you know, the counterinsurgency doctrine may not work. It may not work no matter what we do to set up -- try to set up Afghan government here. But it definitely won't work without a deadline, at least in Kandahar, not based on what I've seen after this latest embedding.

Undeterred, Curry pivots back to the "major offensive" theme, looking for some affirmation of war movie-style blood and guts fighting:

CURRY: You've been talking about community building there in Kandahar, the city of Kandahar proper. But Richard has been just reporting that part of General Petraeus' strategy, new strategy, will be to intensify the fight against the Taliban. So what are you learning there about how fierce the combat in the wider region might be in the coming months?

MADDOW: Well, we saw some, I think, foreshadowing of it in the Helmand province fighting that we saw starting in mid-February, led by the US Marines and also by British forces. There will definitely be highly kinetic combat operations in areas outside Kandahar city sometime between now and the end of the year. However, that's not the whole operation in Kandahar. Really, the bulk of what's happening in Kandahar is trying to set up law and order there, trying to link people with their government and hopefully link Kandahar government with Kabul. The -- linking Kandahar to Kabul is something that historically would be rather unique in this country. It's a very ambitious doctrine. But we shouldn't expect this to be something that's decided on the basis of the success of those combat operations. Counterinsurgency is much more about governance than it is just about house to house or orchard to orchard fighting.

And be sure to watch the end where Rachel really shows respect for the troops, their abilities, and her belief that if it can be done at all, they will do it.

It may not fit the mainline narrative, but it feels much closer to the truth.

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