Why Moshtarak might succeed where Soviet army failed
The joint Nato-Afghan offensive called Operation Moshtarak has pushed troops into many areas previously under Afghan control.
The results are encouraging - but so they should be, as Nato now has 10 times as many troops in Helmand as the Russians did.
When the Soviet army pulled its brigade, the 22nd Spetsnaz Brigade, out of that province in 1988, I accompanied them as a young newspaper reporter.
They numbered fewer than 2,500 troops.
Although a similar number of Afghan army men remained in the province once they had gone, it is important to note how few the Russians had there.
The Soviet approach to Helmand revolved around a grand deal made with the principal mujahideen commander - you leave us alone in the main provincial centres (Lashkar Gah and Gireshk) and we will leave you alone in more remote districts.
It was this bargain which produced relative quiet for the 22nd Brigade and, at the same time, saw the province turned into opium central.
Nato's operation embraces totally different ideas - it is a vast expenditure of resources designed to crush opposition in areas where the Taliban have found sanctuary, propelling newly formed Afghan security forces in at the same time, and extending the control of the country's callow government.
It was never likely that the Taliban would not contest Operation Moshtarak in a major way.
When 36 Sea Stallion helicopters land around your farm (as happened in Marjah), each of them carrying 30 or more US marines, even the most ardent guerrilla fighter knows it is time to strike the pose of a peaceful farmer.
Some people assume that these fighters will pop up, laying IEDs and taking pot shots as soon as the forces which surged into their area thin out a little.
This is quite possible, or likely even.
But there is also a possibility that, if the Afghan security follow-up is as extensive as we have been led to believe, there could be some permanent "re-adjustments" in the Marjah and (British-controlled) Nad Ali districts.
Things may reach a point where a significant number of local people who had been fighting Nato or government forces decide it is not worth it - for a while anyway.
Early reports indicate that this is what may have happened in another Helmand district, Now Zad, following a major operation there in December, which I witnessed first hand.
Recently there have been suggestions that many refugees have come back to Now Zad and that the level of attacks or IEDs laid against US marines has declined since their clearance operation.
With something like 25,000 Nato and 8,000 Afghan security forces operating across the province the ratio soldiers to locals has now reached a level considered optimum by many theorists of counter insurgency (1:25 or 30).
In short, if this does not work, the generals will have run out of excuses.
The US surge will buy a window of opportunity in Helmand and elsewhere.
The Obama administration want to be cutting troop numbers on 2011-12 by which time the Afghans will have to hold the ring.
It is a totally different approach to the one tried by the Soviet army - and it might even work.