Afghan offensive begins

Following up on the last post, the joint US-UK-Afghan Army offensive to clear the city of Marja and Helmand province of Taliban has begun:

Thousands of U.S., British and Afghan troops moved to seize the Taliban stronghold of Marja early Saturday in what the Marine general leading the assault called a “big, strong and fast” offensive aimed at challenging the insurgency’s grip on a key southern Afghan province.

Rounds of tracer fire lighted up a starry, predawn sky as waves of troops, ferried in by helicopters, descended on the farming districts that surround the town. Transport and Cobra attack helicopters also dropped rounds to illuminate the ground.

Troops initially met only modest return fire from inside of Marja.

Sporadic firefights had broken out throughout the day Friday on the periphery of Marja as Marine units probed Taliban defenses.

The commander, Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, had for weeks telegraphed the military’s plans for the offensive, one of the largest since the war began in 2001.

The United States and its allies hope the assault, the biggest joint operation by Western and Afghan troops to date, will prove a turning point in the conflict with the Taliban and other militants that have carved out swaths of territory in Afghanistan.

Military leaders expected about 7,500 coalition troops to occupy Marja by nightfall, with 7,500 more supporting the mission from elsewhere in the Nad Ali district of Helmand province.

The allied command had been prepping the battlefield for months, clearing the Taliban from villages in Helmand and then staying behind to make sure they don’t come back, thus giving the local residents the security they need to start cooperating with our side. Previously, the brave, brave jihadis of the Taliban would come back after we left, and the punishment meted out to those who collaborated with us would be horrific. In this way, Operation Moshtarek (Operation “Together”) resembles the plan used at the outset of the “surge” offensive in Afghanistan in 2007, when US and Iraqi forces began clear-and-hold operations against al Qaeda. In this case, Marja substitutes for Iraq’s Baquba as a key target: a town that had become a central base and depot for the enemy and, our side hopes, a trap where they can be caught and brought to battle.

The Taliban may not be as stupid as al Qaeda in Iraq, however. The offensive had been announced weeks in advance and publicized widely to give civilians a chance to leave. With them, of course, may have gone the Taliban; it’s unclear how many have stayed behind in Marja. What is clear, however, is that they had plenty of time to prepare traps of their own: extensive IED-laden minefields and booby-trapped buildings. Hence the big debut of the Assault Breacher Vehicles.

But it may not necessary to kill thousands of Taliban, much as they need it. The purpose of this counterinsurgency strategy is to deny the enemy access to the population whom he can then hide among and dominate. It was very effective in Vietnam under General Abrams (History later showed that, when we walked away, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.), it worked better than expected in Iraq under General Petraeus, and now one hopes for similar success under General McChrystal. Less committed elements of the Taliban and their allies may be encouraged to quit, once they realize they’re cut off from the people they preyed on. As the article points out, it’s also a chance for the ill-regarded Afghan Army to show its people that it can protect them, even after we eventually leave.

I’m usually highly critical of President Obama, and I do wish he had made up his mind about an Afghan strategy earlier and sent more troops than he authorized, but I’m grateful he is at least taking the fight to the enemy. It’s been nearly a decade, but let’s not forget that these are the same salafis who abetted and protected al Qaeda before and after 9-11, and still do.

Good hunting, gentlemen.

LINKS: Max Boot. Ed Morrissey with a good observation about the departure of Canadian troops in a year or so and the closing window of opportunity.

2 Responses to Afghan offensive begins

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

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  2. archer52 says:

    With all of Obama’s gyrations over this, it is Bush’s plan. Obama just got out of the way. Trust me, he could care less one way or the other except for the fact this allow him to look presidential when everything else is falling apart. My step-brother is knee deep in this right now as is my former brother-in-law.

    Obama is acting like the denial of space and food and shelter is a new way to starve out insurgents. Like you pointed out it works no matter whether it is a jungle or a desert mountain. The enemy gets just as hungry, sick, cold, and depressed as anyone. They aren’t ten feet tall and shoot lightening bolt out of their asses. However, the key is time. You must stay for a long time. This is where Obama may falter. As soon as the goal of gaining cover is successful, I wonder if he will pull the plug (somehow laying blame at Bush’s feet) and pull the troops.

    The second key to the tactic is to continue to lay waste to them any opportunity you have. That way they don’t get too comfortable. Bin Laden lived with these people and observed that they tend to follow the “strong horse”. It makes sense if you live in a world where food is not plentiful nor is shelter. The “holding out” theory sucks. They will deal to survive, hoping we’ll go away in time and they can get back to what they are comfortable with.

    My buddy just came back from there and is slated to go back in a couple of months. His job was to train their version of the DEA (I know, peals of laughter moment. But it was a job, a very well paying job.) His observations were very insightful. You can read them at my blog. His basic point was that Afghanistan is a tribal world, stuck five hundred years in the past. The smartest of the people left when they could and leave when they can. What is remaining are backward, not so smart, people who believe in the tribal system. It will take generations of our influence to literally “grow” new Afghans who think differently.

    Think Korea.

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