Fighting in Helmand

As Independence Day approaches in the U.S., those who pay the price of keeping us independent are heavily engaged today.

In the largest offensive operation by US Marines since the retaking of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004, Brigadier-General Larry Nicholson said that the American troops had run into stiff resistance in some areas. He confirmed that the Marines had taken casualties, with the death of a first soldier in combat.

The US push into the southern districts of Nawa and Garmsir is intended to clear an area known to British forces as “The Fishhook” because of the shape of the Helmand River at that point. About 4,000 Marines are involved in the operation over a 55-mile front. The Taleban has controlled the area for the past three years.

Brigadier Nicholson said that while the 1st Battalion of the 5th Marine force was making steady progress elements of the 2nd Battalion of the 8th Marines had run into fierce opposition. “For 2/8 there is a hell of a fight going on in the southern quarter of the sector,” he told reporters.

They need our full support, and that also includes the right of their commanders to ask for more troops when necessary. A disturbing editorial in the Washington Post today raised doubt about whether they can believe that they currently have that right.

Mr. Obama elected to defer decisions on Gen. McKiernan’s requests [for 10,000 more troops next year] at the time he approved this year’s deployment of 21,000 troops. So it was surprising, and troubling, to read Mr. [Bob] Woodward’s account of meetings in Afghanistan last month at which [President Obama’s national security adviser] Mr. [James L.] Jones lectured U.S. commanders about the offense they might cause the president by asking for more forces. Mr. Jones was quoted as saying that such a request would cause Mr. Obama to have “a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment” — military jargon for the expression “what the [expletive].” He further declared, in reference to Iraq, “we are not going to build that empire again.”

What “empire,” we wonder, was Mr. Jones talking about? That of the successful “surge” — or that of the years before, when the Pentagon chronically failed to deploy enough troops to secure Iraq? It’s true, as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has pointed out, that a larger American force could prompt a backlash by Afghans. But that is not the problem at the moment: According to polls, most Afghans still favor the presence of American troops.

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