U.S. Army Applies Lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan

It is a region of seemingly endless desert, where the air is filled with yellow sand and jagged mountains form the horizon. The air temperature is 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

Tart is ready to go. His company is waiting for him, 24 men standing in front of their Humvees. They received a tip that drugs are being hidden at a remote farm south of Delaram.

From the moment Tart leaves the camp, the enemy is observing him. Tart knows it, and he feels it. The Taliban lay roadside bombs and fire anti-tank grenades at the soldiers from the surrounding farms. Anyone here could be a potential attacker: the goatherd on a hill, or the motorcyclist standing on the side of the road.

Before coming to Afghanistan, Tart served three tours of duty in Iraq's Anbar province, at a time when the situation there seemed hopeless. His unit took part in the siege of Fallujah when it was a terrorist stronghold. Eventually, a former general under Saddam Hussein was installed to keep order on behalf of the Americans, and the situation stabilized. "We're the shock troops, we're the world's most feared military unit," says Tart, who apparently believes that this will make his unit just as effective in Helmand.

'This Will Not Be Easy'

Helmand is Afghanistan's Anbar, the heart of the insurgency. It is the world's largest opium-growing region, responsible for 42 percent of total production. Helmand, Afghanistan's largest province, is almost one-and-a-half times the size of Switzerland. It is also the Taliban's main money-maker in Afghanistan, providing the extremists with up to $300 million ($210 million) in annual revenue from the drug trade.

Although President Obama in faraway Washington merely inherited this war with the Taliban, he has now tied the outcome of the conflict to his own political fate. Afghanistan, he says, is a "war of necessity," not a "war of choice" like the Iraq war, entered into for the wrong reasons.

In a speech to war veterans in Arizona last week, Obama said: "If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans." Difficult times are ahead for his fellow Americans, he said, adding: "This will not be quick. This will not be easy."

Obama wants to win the war at all costs, and he is prepared to spend even more money on the conflict in this difficult country, despite the massive US budget deficit and the healthcare reform debate. Almost 800 US soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001 and the war effort costs American taxpayers $4 billion a month.

Defeating the Taliban and al-Qaida will take "a few years," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, adding that it is still "completely unclear" when American forces will be able to withdraw. He also noted that rebuilding the country's economy and government will take even longer -- at least "10 years."

The New Man in Kabul

In May, Gates dismissed David McKiernan, the commander of US forces and of international troops in Afghanistan. McKiernan's removal demonstrated how serious Washington is about its radical change of course. The last time a commanding four-star general was replaced was in 1951, when then-President Harry Truman removed a general for having opposed his plans during the Korean War.

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