Last summer, plans were drawn up to interdict cross-border "ratlines" as a means of defunding the Taliban. But the Obama administration's five-month delay in "surging" additional U.S. troops and trainers to Afghanistan has resulted in too few "boots on the ground" to shut down the frontier. As a consequence, the effort to reduce this spring's opium harvest is being limited to a "test case" in the recently secured Marjah district of central Helmand.
Though the Marjah operation -- and parallel efforts by the International Security Assistance Force in Nad Ali, Now Zad and Garmsir -- resulted in reduced opium production, the Karzai government in Kabul has been slow to capitalize on the gains elsewhere in the country. Only 27 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces currently have full-time provincial reconstruction teams in operation. Some Afghan national security forces, such as the commando kandaks that are partnered with U.S. special operations units, are well-trained and well-equipped, but many are barely prepared.
Our Fox News team has accompanied more than two dozen combined U.S./Afghan units on combat operations -- and seen the full spectrum of the readiness of Afghan security forces. On one such mission last week, U.S. personnel were stunned when the Afghan National Army company commander they had been advising "declined" to board the Mi-17 helicopters carrying his troops on a cordon and search operation.
Perhaps he "stayed home" because he knew his men better than we did. During the mission -- led by a capable Afghan sergeant -- only a handful of his troops exhibited the slightest tactical proficiency. Carrying their AK-47s slung over their shoulders seemed to be SOP. The platoon's machine-gunner ditched his Kevlar helmet. In its stead, he wore a white turban around his head. Chuck Holton, my former U.S. Army Ranger cameraman, and I spent the day staying as far from him as we could, knowing he was Target No. 1 for a sniper. Thankfully, the Taliban were out to lunch -- or went to ground to prevent being spotted on the thermal sights of the Apache helicopters overhead.
There are some very good, brave and competent Afghan soldiers and police, but not enough. The commandos and narcotics interdiction units we have seen are the kind of troops you want on your flank in a gunfight. Unfortunately, the "tactical pause" now under way in Afghanistan won't help any of them get any better -- or help our troops do what they know they can do: win!
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.