NATO deputy rues early optimism on Marjah

By Kimberly Dozier-Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO commanders were overly optimistic when they predicted quick success taking the key Taliban-held town of Marjah last winter, the outgoing deputy commander said.

There are now fledgling signs of a turnaround, but burned once by Marjah’s unpredictability, the military will be more restrained in forecasting success, British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker told reporters Saturday at the headquarters of the NATO-led force.

U.S. Marines and Afghan troops overran Marjah, a major Taliban logistics center and opium poppy-growing community, last February and announced plans to stand up an effective Afghan administration. The idea was to develop Marjah as a model for counterinsurgency techniques in hopes other communities in Helmand province and elsewhere in the south would turn against the Taliban.

Instead, the Taliban have fought back with hidden bombs, ambushes, assassinations and intimidation, undercutting NATO‘s efforts to win public support. That has fueled doubts on Capitol Hill and among the American public that the Afghan war can be won.

Parker, who leaves his post at the end of this month, said it was “nobody’s fault” that the Marjah campaign has gone slower than expected, but is simply a product of the “complexity of the environment we’re operating in.”

“I think we were probably a little bit over-enthusiastic,” Parker said. He acknowledged that he himself was “a little bit too positive,” because he wanted to stiffen the resolve of troops doing the fighting. “You want to convince people that what you’re doing is right,” he said.

He said only now is security beginning to take hold in a “persistent” way that allows the Afghan government to start functioning there. But he said no one should be drawing conclusions, or raising expectations that the positive security trends will continue.

“We’ve got to stay on the balls of our feet and react properly,” to whatever happens, Parker said.

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