A Washington Post article about a forthcoming report on the war from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says that “the Taliban is far more sophisticated than it was just a few years ago.” It is clear that the Taliban has gotten extremely good at fighting Americans, particularly since McChrystal is hinting that he wants more troops and that “greater “resolve’” is needed to win the war. But how bad things really are is not clear from many of the news accounts, particularly those that are based on commanders’ reports to people in Washington.
Reports from people who actually live in Helmand Province reveal a far darker picture. Michael Yon, a former Green Beret who is now blogging from Afghanistan, describes what it is like: “The leadership tells us that the Taliban and associated groups control only small parts of the country. Yet enemy influence is growing, and so far, despite the fact that we have made progress on some fronts, our own influence is diminishing.” He says that the enemy is not hiding or running scared. Instead, they are settled into trenches and bunkers and are prepared to attack. As a result of that, it is nearly impossible for troops to move around the country. Traveling four miles from one base to the next, for example, means flying in a helicopter. Except Yon says there are not enough troops in Afghanistan – or helicopters – and that sometimes a soldier will have to wait 10 days for a helicopter to arrive and then take him to another base. His bleak conclusion is, as he puts it, “The enemy owns the terrain.”
It is not clear how, or whether, additional troops will make a difference, or what the outcome of McChrystal’s report will be. In the meantime, reading first-hand accounts of life in Helmand Province is sobering -- and important. As the London-based journalist Stephen Grey recently told the House of Commons Defense Committee, "We owe it to all those that are sacrificing themselves in Helmand to be brutally frank about what is going on there and what is going wrong.” And that kind of understanding and knowledge can come only from the soldiers themselves.