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As last week ended, the American and British military in Afghanistan finally launched a long awaited operation to occupy the city of Marja in Taliban-controlled Helmand Province. According to Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, to win "hearts and minds," the US Army and Marines were arriving with "a government in a box"—Afghan governing and security structures evidently ready to be unpacked as part of the sort of nation-building operation that once would have staggered the American officer corps.
Not surprisingly, when it comes to the Afghan War, "hearts and minds" pieces are now a dime a dozen in the US press. (Can McChrystal's new counterinsurgency strategy of "protecting the people" work? Will the Afghans start to love us, love themselves, and reject the Taliban?) In one recent piece about Marines in a Taliban "stronghold" near the southern city of Kandahar, "Forces Strain to Hire Afghans," Wall Street Journal reporter Yaroslav Trofimov described the crisis a US Army captain faced. He had more than a million dollars to spend on reconstruction projects meant to gain local loyalties, and few Afghan takers. The third paragraph of his piece went like this: "Yet, the only construction work here so far has been the hammering of US Navy Seabees, or construction troops, erecting a vast American base overlooking Senjaray. The town's unemployed men prefer to stay home, for fear of Taliban retribution."