U.S. Army Applies Lessons of Iraq to Afghanistan

Tart has the older of the two men handcuffed and then takes him along to the police station in Delaram. The captain is pleased with his success. "The drugs bring in dirty money, which is used to kill our people," he says. "We took it off the street."

The police station in Delaram is between the bazaar and the cemetery, where green-and-white flags fly over the graves. The Marines have set up camp in a derelict building, and the police officers live in the adjacent house. This is where the US troops are testing McChrystal's new strategy of living with local security forces.

The American soldiers look a bit like pirates, with bandanas and tattoos, chewing tobacco between their teeth. The food is better with the Afghans, they say. They only received the tip-off about the opium because they have set up camp here instead of withdrawing several weeks ago, when suicide bombers attacked the police station several times.

The Afghan police have set up a building for visitors behind the Americans' quarters. The first of the villagers eventually came to the police -- and talked. Others followed, a sign that the new strategy appears to be paying off.

Looking for Combat

Corporal Jacey Marks, on the other hand, looks like someone who would have trouble rethinking the strategy. The powerfully built soldier has close-cropped red hair, high cheekbones and tattoos. Marks served in Haditha, the embattled Iraqi city that acquired a tragic notoriety when a small number of GIs mowed down 24 Iraqi civilians there in 2005. Marks gained combat experience in Haditha, and combat is what the 24-year-old soldier has learned so far. "That's what you look for," he says, reflecting the mentality of the Marines.

Now Marks is driving with a patrol in the border region near the western edge of Helmand. He drives his Humvee over bumpy fields to avoid the omnipresent roadside bombs, expecting enemy fire or an ambush at any moment. But nothing happens. Nothing has happened in weeks. The enemy is merely watching him from afar, and all the energy the corporal has directed against the enemy comes to nothing. Marks is learning that Afghanistan is not Haditha. The Taliban know that they can only lose in direct combat with the Marines, and they avoid them.

"The Taliban aren't challenging us, the Marines, but they are exhausting the American public, which will eventually come to believe that there are no successes and there is no purpose to our effort here," says a first sergeant at the Marines' camp in Delaram. He is sitting under a camouflage tent, fanning himself with a paper plate.

Only 4.5 percent of the Afghan population lives in Helmand, but many Afghans stand to lose a lot if peace were to suddenly break out there. Opium and the war are economically significant for Afghanistan. The drugs fuel the war, and the war protects the drugs. Those who profit from opium want to see the status quo maintained for a while longer.

General McChrystal's goal must now be to take support away from the insurgents and win the backing of as many clans and tribes as possible, so that the Taliban are eventually forced to negotiate -- under the West's terms. But is this even achievable anymore?

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