There's a story out today by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in the Washington Post about the new push by about 4,000 Marines into the Helmand Valley in Afghanistan. Helmand is the opium capitol of the world and a Taliban stronghold.
Like the drug trade everywhere, only a tiny percentage of the population makes any money at it, and in a lot of cases, entire small villages are sharecroppers under a sort of feudal system. Anyhow the Taliban can get a foot soldier for about $5 per day and it ain't about ideology as much as it is about staying alive. Better to be the guy with the gun than otherwise.
About a hundred miles away in Kandahar, the Taliban has been chased out, but there is no functional government. Saw Sarah Chayse sum it up nicely on a recent Rachel Maddow Show :
"....one of my cooperative members was bringing some car parts - he has an auto parts store - in from the border. He had to pay bribes at eight different checkpoints, you know, to the police.
So it‘s like you are afraid of the Taliban and then the government is abusing you, too. And it is this constant navigation of trying to make your way between these two hostile forces in a way."
The Marines seem to have their work cut out for them. We've been messing around in Helmand for years, going at it from the top end of the KBR/Halliburton food chain with various large scale construction projects that wind up as besieged fortresses like the Kajaki Damwhich has a shiny new turbine, but gets attacked and harassed regularly. Meanwhile the farmers downstream don't have wiring in their houses anyway, so the Hearts and Minds thing ain't been going so well.
Obama's big plan is to get the troops out into the villages, run off any random Talibs and sit down with the local elders to run up to-do lists for the immediate betterment of the locals. Obama's wonks seem to get the whole economic problem and the governmental power vacuum, and the Marines have their orders, so we'll hope for the best. I used to work with some guys from this part of the world back in Esfahan Iran in '78, and they haven't had a moment of peace since. They definitely are due for a break. Still it all reminds me of an old Firesign Theater sketch where the U.S Navy is anchored off the coast of Africa, firing (if memory serves) Levis and Nikes into the jungle, once and for all solving all post colonial ills.