Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Washington Post‘s well-respected foreign correspondent, had a lengthy dispatch on Sunday about Nawa, a district in Helmand Province, that has largely (but not completely) been pacified by the Marines and their Afghan partners. He concedes that Nawa, which I have visited twice (and he has visited five times), is a remarkable success story: “It is undeniable that Nawa has undergone a remarkable transformation since the Marines swept in, and it represents what is possible in Afghanistan when everything comes together correctly.” But he goes on to argue that “the changes in this district are fragile and that much of what has transpired here is unique rather than universal.”
I agree that the changes are fragile; not even the most starry-eyed optimist could possibly believe that the Taliban will be vanquished overnight. But I am less persuaded that what is transpiring in Nawa is unique. Chandrasekaran focuses on the high troop-to-population ratio, the large amount of economic aid poured in, and the competence shown both by Afghan security forces and by the district governor.
Granted, all that is true, but similarly favorable conditions exist, or are being created, in a number of other key districts being targeted by coalition forces. Sure, Nawa is doing well, but so too are Garmsir and Lashkar Gah in Helmand. Even Marjah, a notoriously difficult fight at the beginning of the year, has taken a turn for the better recently. Similar strategies are being employed with Kandahar, and although those operations aren’t as far along, they too are moving in the right direction.
No one would claim that all Afghanistan is going to become one big Nawa, but nor should Chandrasekaran suggest that it’s impossible for other parts of southern Afghanistan to take a Nawa-like turn for the better.