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Afghanistan Can Be Won

A bottom-up approach like that exercised by Marines in southern Helmand could build a sustainable foundation for success.

11:30 AM, Jul 2, 2010 • By FRANK BIGGIO
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It’s not likely that Afghanistan will become a model state anytime soon. But a bottom-up approach like that exercised by Marines in southern Helmand could build a sustainable foundation for success. This could take time, likely extending past the July 2011 timeframe set forth by President Obama in his December 1, 2009, speech at West Point.  That makes one of the biggest potential threats to Afghanistan’s future not only the drug trade, Taliban influence or corruption at the higher levels of government, but rather the patience and persistence of her foreign partners.

There are daunting tasks ahead in Afghanistan, and when I think of the Marines who lost their lives in Nawa and Garmsir, I’m reminded that a truth of any war is that success comes at an awful cost.  But there are strategic reasons why it’s worth it—and human ones: A farmer named Wali Jahn who hadn’t had a good job in three years but is now leading a construction crew in the Nawa district center. A widow named Sahaba who cried tears of joy and thanks when Marines gave her enough rice, beans and cooking oil to last a month. Haji Mohammad Hajem, who brought his family back to Nawa after having fled to Lashkar Gah 18 months ago. Or Haji Abdul Ghafar from Khojibaba village who embraced a Marine for a full minute after being given a Koran and a prayer rug, then looked him in the eye and told him in broken English “You are good men. I will pray for you as long as I live.” Afghanistan is tough. But, based on what I saw, we can succeed.

Frank Biggio is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and reservist in the U.S. Marine Corps.  He served with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Afghanistan from May to December 2009. 

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