Current Events and the Psychology of Politics

Featured Posts        





Feb 13th, 2010

Bombs Slow U.S. Advance in Afghan Town

2 NATO troops, at least 20 insurgents reported killed on first day of assault

Image: U.S. Marines near Marjah, Afghanistan
U.S. Marines enter Marjah in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2010. (Photo credit: David Guttenfelder / AP)

Feb. 13, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Bombs and booby traps slowed the advance of thousands of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers moving Saturday through the Taliban-controlled town of Marjah — NATO’s most ambitious effort yet to break the militants’ grip over their southern heartland.

NATO said it hoped to secure the area in days, set up a local government and rush in development aid in a first test of the new U.S. strategy for turning the tide of the eight-year war. The offensive is the largest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

The Taliban appeared to have scattered in the face of overwhelming force, possibly waiting to regroup and stage attacks later to foil the alliance’s plan to stabilize the area and expand Afghan government control in the volatile south.

NATO said two of its troops were killed in the first day of the operation — one American and one Briton, according to military officials in their countries. Afghan authorities said at least 20 insurgents were killed.

Injured Taliban fighters receive medical treatment aboard a Black Hawk helicopter after they were captured. (Photo credit: Brennan Linsley / AP)

More than 30 transport helicopters ferried troops into the heart of Marjah before dawn Saturday, while British, Afghan and U.S. troops fanned out across the Nad Ali district to the north of the mudbrick town, long a stronghold of the Taliban. …

Slide presentation
Image: A U.S. Marine from Bravo Company of 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, gestures during a gun battle in the town of Marjah
Operation Moshtarak
U.S.-led troops launch a major assault on Taliban strongholds.

Avoiding booby-traps

In Marjah, Marines and Afghan troops faced little armed resistance. But their advance through the town was impeded by countless land mines, homemade bombs and booby-traps littering the area.

Throughout the day, Marine ordnance teams blew up bombs where they were found, setting off huge explosions that reverberated through the dusty streets.

The bridge over the canal into Marjah from the north was rigged with so many explosives that Marines erected temporary bridges to cross into the town. …

Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, said U.S. troops fought gunbattles in at least four areas of the town, including the western suburb of Sistani where India Company faced “some intense fighting.”

To the east, the battalion’s Kilo Company was inserted into the town by helicopter without meeting resistance but was then “significantly engaged” as the Marines fanned out from the landing zone, Christmas said.

Marine commanders had said they expected between 400 and 1,000 insurgents — including more than 100 foreign fighters — to be holed up in Marjah, a town of 80,000 people which is the linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network in the south. …

Operation Moshtarak

Saturday’s ground assault followed several hours after the first wave of helicopters flew troops over the mine fields into the center of town before dawn. Helicopter gunships fired missiles at Taliban tunnels and bunkers while flares illuminated the night sky so pilots could see their landing zones.

The offensive, code-named “Moshtarak,” or “Together,” was described as the biggest joint operation of the Afghan war, with 15,000 troops involved, including some 7,500 in Marjah itself. The government says Afghan soldiers make up at least half of the offensive’s force.

Elsewhere in the south, three U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb in an attack unrelated to the operation, NATO said. …

Sparing civilians

Tribal elders have pleaded with NATO to finish the operation quickly and spare civilians — an appeal that offers some hope the townspeople will cooperate with Afghan and international forces once the Taliban are gone.

Still, the town’s residents have displayed few signs of rushing to welcome the attack force.

“The elders are telling people to stay behind the front doors and keep them bolted,” Carter said. “Once people feel more secure and they realize there is government present on the ground, they will come out and tell us where the IEDs are.”


U.S.-led push tests Afghan surge strategy (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 13, 2010) — Forces are slowly advancing through the militant groups stronghold of Marjah. NBC’s Richard Engel reports. (02:09)


2/14/10 Update


Fighting intensifies as Afghan assault progresses (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 14, 2010) — Coalition troops are coming under heavy fire in the battle for Marjah, the last Taliban stronghold in the heart of Helmand province. “This battle could be the Alamo.” NBC’s Jim Maceda reports. (03:25)

NATO Rockets Miss Target, Kill Afghan Civilians

U.S. Marines with 1/3 Marine Weapons Company guard a man found hiding in an irrigation canal as Marines battle insurgents northeast of Marjah on Feb. 14, 2010. The farmer, suspected to be a Taliban spotter, was searched and released. NATO commanders said the start of a major U.S.-led offensive against key Taliban stronghold Marjah in southern Afghanistan had been a success as the operation entered its second day. (Photo credit: Patrick Baz / AFP — Getty Images)

Feb. 14, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Twelve Afghans died Sunday when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and struck a house during the second day of NATO’s most ambitious effort yet to break the militants’ grip on the country’s dangerous south.

Thousands of NATO and Afghan troops encountered pockets of resistance, fighting off sniper attacks, as they moved deeper into Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants’ logistical and opium-smuggling network in Helmand province.

Marines and Afghan troops used metal detectors and sniffer dogs, searching compound to compound for explosives rigged to explode. Blasts from controlled detonations could be heard about every 10 minutes north of Marjah.

Afghan and international troops want to secure the area, set up a local government and rush in development aid in what is seen as the first test of the new U.S. strategy for turning the tide of the 8-year-old war. The civilian deaths were a blow to NATO and the Afghan government’s attempts to win the allegiance of Afghans and get them to turn away from the insurgents.

‘Tragic loss of life’

NATO said two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System were aimed at insurgents firing on Afghan and NATO forces, but stuck 1,000 feet off their intended target.

“We deeply regret this tragic loss of life,” said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. “The current operation in central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It’s regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost.”

McChrystal said he had apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the accident and had suspended the use of the rocket system until the incident can be reviewed.

Karzai issued a statement minutes earlier saying 10 members of the same family died when the rocket hit a house in Marjah. He ordered an investigation into who fired the rocket. Before the offensive began on Saturday, Karzai pleaded with Afghan and foreign military leaders to be “seriously careful for the safety of civilians.” …

Holed up militants

It could take weeks to completely reclaim Marjah, according to Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, a top Marine commander in the south.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean an intense gun battle, but it probably will be 30 days of clearing,” Nicholson said. “I am more than cautiously optimistic that we will get it done before that.”

Sniper fire forced Nicholson to duck behind an earthen bank in the northern part of the town where he toured the tip of the Marines’ front line held by Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. …

Between 400 and 1,000 insurgents — including more than 100 foreign fighters — were believed to be holed up in Marjah.

“We’re in the majority of the city at this point,” said Lt. Josh Diddams, a Marine spokesman. He said the nature of the resistance has changed from the initial assault, with insurgents now holding ground in some neighborhoods.

“We’re starting to come across areas where the insurgents have actually taken up defensive positions,” he said. “Initially it was more hit and run.”

He said insurgents riddled the area with explosives. “We thought there would be a lot,” he said, “but we are finding even more than expected.”

NATO forces uncovered 250 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and other bomb-making materials while clearing a compound in Marjah, a coalition statement said. They also found a weapons cache in Nad Ali, which lies to the north, that included artillery rounds, pressure plates and blasting caps.

The United Nations said an estimated 900 families had fled the Marjah area and were registered for emergency assistance in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, about 20 miles away. …


NATO: Civilians killed in Afghanistan (MSNBC, Feb. 14, 2010) — NATO says two rockets fired at insurgents missed and killed 12 civilians in southern Afghanistan. MSNBC’s Alex Witt talks with military analyst retired Gen. Barry McCaffery. (03:33)


2/15/10 Update

Taliban Fighters Step Up Attacks in Afghan Town

Mission faces setback as NATO airstrike accidentally kills more civilians

Image: U.S. Marines fire mortar rounds on Taliban positions
U.S. Marines fire mortar rounds at Taliban positions northeast of Marjah, Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Patrick Baz / AFP — Getty Images)

Feb. 15, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Taliban fighters stepped up counterattacks Monday against Marines and Afghan soldiers in the militant stronghold of Marjah, slowing the allied advance to a crawl despite Afghan government claims that the insurgents are broken and on the run.

Taliban fighters appeared to be slipping under cover of darkness into compounds already deemed free of weapons and explosives, then opening fire on the Marines from behind U.S. lines.

Also Monday, NATO said five civilians were accidentally killed and two wounded by an airstrike when they were mistakenly believed to have been planting roadside bombs in Kandahar province, east of the Marjah offensive.

The airstrike happened one day after 12 people, half of them children, were killed by two U.S. missiles that struck a house on the outskirts of Marjah. Afghan officials said Monday that three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time of the attack.

On the third day of the main attack on Marjah, Afghan commanders spoke optimistically about progress in the town of about 80,000 people, the linchpin of the Taliban logistical and opium poppy smuggling network in the militant-influenced south.

Brig. Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai, commander of Afghan troops in the south, told reporters in nearby Lashkar Gah that there had been “low resistance” in the town, adding “soon we will have Marjah cleared of enemies.” …

In Marjah, however, there was little sign the Taliban were broken. Instead, small, mobile teams of insurgents repeatedly attacked U.S. and Afghan troops with rocket, rifle and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Insurgents moved close enough to the main road to fire repeatedly at columns of mine-clearing vehicles.

At midday at least six large gunbattles were raging across the town, and helicopter gunships couldn’t cover all the different fighting locations. …

After daylong skirmishes, some Marine units had barely advanced at all by sundown. …

Although there was only scattered resistance on the first day, Taliban fighters seem to have regrouped, using hit-and-run tactics to try to prevent the Americans and their Afghan allies from gaining full control of the area. The Taliban snipers appeared highly skilled at concealing themselves. …


Related report

Troops: Strict war rules slow Afghan offensive


2/17/10 Update

Marjah Residents Skeptical of NATO Promises

Image: Senior Afghan Army officer instructs a soldier
Senior Afghan Army officer instructs a soldier where to hoist an Afghan flag on a building in a market in Marjah, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010. (Photo credit: Altaf Qadri / AP)

Feb. 17, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — The Taliban’s white flag no longer flies over villages across this militant stronghold. Afghan and NATO troops have replaced it with Afghanistan’s official green-and-red banner, which they promise heralds new schools and clinics and good governance.

But residents have heard that before, and for many, Taliban rule hasn’t been all that bad. Plenty of Afghans have made a living off the opium trade, which also funds the insurgency. While some residents greet NATO forces with tea, others just want the troops to clear their streets of explosives and leave.

No one here needs liberating, they say. …

Image: Afghan Army soldier salutes
Altaf Qadri / AP
An Afghan Army soldier salutes an Afghan flag after hoisting it on a building in a market in Marjah, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010.

In March 2009, about 700 British troops invaded Marjah in an operation that they hailed then as a dramatic success. They declared the town back in government hands after a three-day assault.

Afghan district officials quickly started building bridges, repairing clinics and roads and clearing ditches, NATO said at the time. But without enough troops to truly hold the area, Taliban fighters slipped back in. Two months later, NATO officials were again describing Marjah as a Taliban command node.

After NATO and Afghan troops took control of Qari Sahib village outside Marjah on Sunday, they tried to hold a meeting with local elders about the government services they’d be bringing. But most of the elders ignored the speeches, laughing and talking to one another throughout, according to an Associated Press reporter at the meeting. …

Provincial officials acknowledge that government corruption is a major reason the Taliban have been able to gain people’s support.

“Unfortunately, on the government side, there’s too much corruption. In any case you bring to court, they want bribes from the bottom to the top level,” said Mohammad Anwar, a member of the Helmand provincial council. …


2/18/10 Update

NATO Holds Key Marjah Roads, But Battles Loom

Marines and Afghan soldiers encounter better-fortified Taliban positions


Taliban fighters ambush U.S. Marines in Marjah (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 18, 2010) — U.S. forces sustained setbacks in the ongoing offensive in Afghanistan on Thursday as the Pentagon warned that the battle will not be a brief engagement. NBC’s Tom Aspell reports. (01:56)

Feb. 18, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — U.S.-led forces control the main roads and markets in the besieged Taliban stronghold of Marjah, a Marine general said Thursday, even as fighting raged elsewhere in the southern farming town.

Marines and Afghan soldiers encountered better-fortified Taliban positions and more skilled marksmen on the sixth day of the assault, indicating Taliban resistance in their logistics and opium-smuggling center was far from crushed. A British general said he expected it would take another month to secure the town.

NATO said four service members died Thursday, bringing the number of allied troops killed in the offensive to nine NATO troops and one Afghan soldier. The international coalition did not disclose their nationalities, but Britain’s Defense Ministry said two British soldiers were among the dead.

No precise figures on Taliban deaths have been released, but senior Marine officers say intelligence reports suggest more than 120 have died. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not supposed to release the information.

Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commander of U.S. Marines in Marjah, told The Associated Press that allied forces have taken control of the main roads, bridges and government centers in Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people located 360 miles southwest of Kabul.

‘There’s not a dramatic change’

As Nicholson spoke, bursts of heavy machine-gun fire in the near distance showed that insurgents still hold terrain about a half-mile away.

“Every day, there’s not a dramatic change, it’s steady,” he said, noting that fighting continues to erupt.

The offensive in Marjah is the biggest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, and a test of President Barack Obama’s strategy for reversing the rise of the Taliban while protecting civilians. …

NATO has given no figures on civilian deaths since a count of 15 earlier in the offensive. Afghan rights groups have reported 19 dead. Since those figures were given, much of the fighting has shifted away from the heavily built-up area, where most civilians live.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly criticized the use of airstrikes and other long-range weaponry because of the risk to civilians. Twelve of the 15 deaths reported by NATO happened when two rockets hit a home on Sunday. …

Throughout Thursday, U.S. Marines pummeled insurgents with mortars, sniper fire and missiles as gunbattles intensified. Taliban fighters fired back with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, some of the fire far more accurate than Marines have faced in other Afghan battles.

The increasingly accurate sniper fire — and strong intelligence on possible suicide bomb threats — indicate that insurgents from outside Marjah are still operating within the town, Nicholson said. …

Afghan police defect to Taliban

Also Thursday, a NATO airstrike in northern Afghanistan missed a group of insurgents and killed seven Afghan policemen, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. …

In eastern Afghanistan, eight Afghan policemen defected to the Taliban, according to Mirza Khan, the deputy provincial police chief.

The policemen abandoned their posts in central Wardak province’s Chak district and joined the militants there, he said. One of them had previous ties to the Taliban, he said, but would not elaborate.

“These policemen came on their own and told us they want to join with the Taliban. Now they are with us,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Muhajid said.


2/21/10 Update

Marines Target Taliban Holdouts in Marjah

Feb. 21, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Outnumbered and outgunned, Taliban fighters are mounting a tougher fight than expected in Marjah, Afghan officials said Sunday, as U.S.-led forces converged on a pocket of militants in a western section of the town. …

With fighter jets, drones and attack helicopters roaring overhead, Marine and Afghan companies advanced Sunday on a two-square-mile area where more than 40 insurgents were believed holed up. …

Bombs, booby traps

U.S. officials signaled their intention to attack Marjah, a major Taliban supply and opium-smuggling center, months ago, apparently in hopes the insurgents would flee and allow the U.S.-led force to take over quickly and restore an Afghan government presence.

Instead, the insurgents rigged Marjah with bombs and booby traps to slow the allied attack, which began Feb. 13. Teams of Taliban gunmen stayed in the town, delivering sometimes intense volleys of gunfire on Marine and Afghan units slogging through the rutted streets and poppy fields. …

In a statement Sunday, NATO acknowledged that insurgents were putting up a “determined resistance” in various parts of Marjah, although the overall offensive is “on track.” …

Before the assault, U.S. officers said they believed 400 to 1,000 insurgents were in Marjah, 360 miles southwest of Kabul. About 7,500 U.S. and Afghan troops attacked the town, while thousands more NATO soldiers moved into other Taliban strongholds in surrounding Helmand province. …

Moving slowly

NATO’s civilian chief in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said the military operation was moving slowly “because of essentially the ruthlessness of the opponent we face and the rules that we’ve set for ourselves” to protect civilians. …

NATO said one service member died in a roadside bombing Sunday, bringing the number of international troops killed in the operation to 13. At least one Afghan soldier has been confirmed dead. Senior Marine officers say intelligence reports suggest more than 120 insurgents have died.

Image: U.S. Marines in Marjah
David Guttenfelder / AP
U.S. Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment pepare to leave a forward patrol base in Marjah in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010.

The Marjah operation is a major test of a new NATO strategy that stresses protecting civilians over routing insurgents quickly. It’s also the first major ground operation since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan.

In a setback to that strategy, the Dutch prime minister said Sunday that his country’s 1,600 troops would probably leave Afghanistan this year. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende spoke a day after his government collapsed when a coalition partner insisted the Dutch troops leave in August as planned. …

On Sunday, Mohammad Jan Rasool Yar, spokesman for Zabul province, said authorities arrested 14 police in the Shar-e-Safa district on Saturday who had defected to the Taliban’s side last week. They were found on a bus heading to Pakistan. …


Karzai criticizes NATO over civilian deaths (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 20, 2010) — In a speech to the opening session of parliament, President Hamid Karzai urged NATO to do more to protect civilians during combat operations to secure Marjah, although he noted the military alliance had made progress in doing that, mainly by reducing airstrikes and adopting more restrictive combat rules. Karzai also reached out to Taliban fighters, urging them to renounce al-Qaida and join with the government. NBC’s Brian Williams reports. (00:30)


2/22/10 Update

‘Unjustifiable’ Airstrike Kills 27 Afghan Civilians

Elsewhere, warlord who tried to capture bin Laden in ’01 dies in bombing

Feb. 22, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan — A NATO airstrike killed at least 27 civilians in central Afghanistan, the third time a mistaken coalition strike has killed noncombatants since the start of a major offensive aimed at winning over the population.

The top NATO commander, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, apologized to the Afghan president, NATO said.

The Afghanistan Council of Ministers strongly condemned the airstrike in Uruzgan province, calling it “unjustifiable.” …

Initial reports indicated that NATO planes fired at a convoy of three vehicles Sunday. The victims included 4 women and a child, Afghan officials said.

NATO confirmed that its planes fired on what it believed was a group of insurgents on their way to attack a joint NATO-Afghan patrol. …

Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary earlier said the airstrike hit three minibuses traveling on a major road near Uruzgan’s border with central Day Kundi province. There were 42 people in the vehicles, all civilians, he said. …

‘Extremely saddened’

“We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives,” Gen. McChrystal said in the statement. “I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission. We will redouble our effort to regain that trust.”

In Washington, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen also expressed regret for the deadly airstrike on Monday. He also told reporters the military was making “steady progress” in its effort to retake the Taliban stronghold of Marjah but that the nation “must be patient.”

On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai admonished NATO troops for not doing enough to protect civilian lives. During a speech at the opening session of the Afghan parliament, Karzai called for extra caution on the part of NATO, which is currently conducting a massive offensive on the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah in neighboring Helmand province.

“We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties,” Karzai said. “Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal.”

NATO has gone to great lengths in recent months to reduce civilian casualties — primarily through reducing airstrikes and tightening rules of engagement — as part of a new strategy to focus on protecting the Afghan people to win their loyalty over from the Taliban.

But mistakes have continued. In the ongoing offensive against Marjah, two NATO rockets killed 12 people in one home and others have been caught in the crossfire. At least 16 civilians have been killed so far during the offensive. …

On Thursday, an airstrike in northern Kunduz province missed targeted insurgents and killed seven policemen.

Tribal elders targeted

Elsewhere, police said a suicide bomber killed 15 people in eastern Afghanistan, including a key tribal leader who played a major role in a failed attempt to capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001.

Among the dead was Mohammad Zaman Ghamsharik, better known as Haji Zaman. He and another warlord from the Jalalabad area, Hazrat Ali, commanded Afghan forces who cornered the al-Qaida leader in the mountains of Nangarhar province but allowed him to slip away. …


Related report

NATO commander makes televised apology to Afghans (AP, Feb. 23, 2010) — The commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan went on national television Tuesday to apologize for a deadly airstrike, an extraordinary attempt to regain Afghans’ trust while a mass offensive continues against the Taliban in the south. In a video translated into the Afghan languages of Dari and Pashto and broadcast on Afghan television, a stern Gen. Stanley McChrystal apologized for the strike in central Uruzgan province that Afghan officials say killed at least 21 people. … Full report


2/27/10 Update

Troops Clear Last Pockets of Resistance in Marjah

Feb. 27, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Marines and Afghan troops cleared the last major pocket of resistance in the former Taliban-ruled town of Marjah on Saturday — part of an offensive that is the run-up to a larger showdown this year in the most strategic part of Afghanistan’s dangerous south.

Although Marines say their work in Marjah isn’t done, Afghans are bracing for a bigger, more comprehensive assault in neighboring Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban where officials are talking to aid organizations about how to handle up to 10,000 people who could be displaced by fighting. …

The Marjah offensive has been the war’s biggest combined operation since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban’s hard-line regime. It’s the first major test of NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 new American troops to try to reverse Taliban gains.

The operation in Marjah is the tactical prelude to the bigger operation being planned for later in Kandahar, the largest city in the south and the former Taliban headquarters, according to senior officials with the Obama administration. It was from in and around Kandahar that Taliban overlord Mullah Omar ruled Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Bringing security to Kandahar city is a chief goal of NATO operations this year, according to the officials, who spoke to reporters in Washington on Friday on condition of anonymity so they could discuss national security issues. If this year’s goal is to reverse the Taliban’s momentum and give Afghan government an opportunity to take control, then NATO-led forces have to get to Kandahar this year, one official said.

On Saturday, after a four-day march, Marines and Afghan troops who fought through the center of Marjah linked up with a U.S. Army Stryker battalion on the northern outskirts of the former Taliban stronghold.

“Basically, you can say that Marjah has been cleared,” said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment.

Lima Company’s more than 100 heavily armed Marines, along with nearly as many Afghan army soldiers, spent days advancing north, searching every compound for possible Taliban holdouts.

There were no Taliban in sight, and the Marines didn’t fire a shot during the final advance — except at a couple of Afghan guard dogs who threatened the unit.

The Marines’ hookup with the Army battalion means the operation is somewhere between the clear and hold phases, although suspected Taliban fighters remain on the western outskirts of town. …

Capt. Abdelhai Hujum, who spent two decades with various Afghan militias before joining the nascent Afghan National Army, said he suspected most of the local Taliban buried their guns and blended with the civilian population. …

Full report


3/20/10 Update

Bombs Still Greet Marines in Afghan Town

Image: U.S. Marines in Marjah
U.S. Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael Lang, of Camden County, Ga., right, and Marine Lance Cpl. Ard Bizahaloni of Pinon, Ariz., with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Alpha Company, take up positions during a gunbattle in Marjah, Afghanistan, Friday, March 19, 2010. (Photo credit: Dusan Vranic / AP)

March 20, 2010

MARJAH, Afghanistan — Explosions rumble through this former Taliban stronghold three or four times a day — an ominous sign that the insurgents have not given up despite losing control of this town to U.S. and Afghan forces about two weeks ago.

This week, Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, the U.S. general in charge of a Pentagon program to combat roadside bombs, told a congressional committee that the number of homemade explosives in Afghanistan had nearly doubled in the last year and “the number of casualties has reflected that.”

Coping with daily explosions

The disturbing trend is starkly clear here in Marjah, which had been the biggest community under Taliban control in the south until a major military operation was launched last month to push out the insurgents.

Taliban fighters scattered but have not abandoned the fight — and are using homemade bombs as their weapon of choice.

New bombs are planted every night, even though Marines say they find and render safe more of them than explode. The bombs are often placed in spots where the Marines stopped on patrol the day before, or into holes from previous explosions so the upturned earth doesn’t look suspicious.

Since U.S. and Afghan forces seized control of Marjah about two weeks ago, they have been working to build up trust in the community. They hope the strategy will pay off with more and more tips about where the Taliban have planted bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices or IEDs. …

Change of tactics

As the Marines improve their bomb-detection skills, the insurgents have begun to adapt to Marine tactics.

Units have found decoy bombs planted in the middle of the road. That forces Marines out of their vehicles to make sure the bombs are fake. Real bombs are planted along the roadsides in hopes that some of the Marines may step on them, according to Capt. Michael Woodie, intelligence officer for Alpha Company.

At least one bomb was floated down a canal. Someone detonated it remotely, likely by cell phone, when it got close to a military vehicle.

“There’s a lot of eyes and ears watching,” Woodie said. “On patrols, there’s guys ‘turkey-peeking’ on top of roofs. Sometimes you see a guy pointing and counting. They’re watching what we do when we find IEDs.”

On Thursday, two Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles — heavily armored personnel carriers known as MRAPS — struck bombs within a couple of hours. No one was seriously wounded because the hulls are so strong. But the vehicles were damaged and need to be replaced. …

Full report


Related reports on this site

Taliban Defiant in Kandahar (April 18, 2010)

Taliban’s Top Commander Captured (Feb. 17, 2010)

Marines Mass for Marjah Assault (Feb. 10, 2010)

Major Afghan Offensive Imminent (Feb. 5, 2010)


FROM THE ARCHIVES: One Year Ago — February 13, 2009

Video: National Security

Economic crisis trumps terror as global threat (NBC Nightly News, Feb. 12, 2009) — A new global threat assessment from intelligence officials says that the global economic meltdown — not terrorism — is security risk No. 1. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports. (02:00)

Economy Threatens U.S. National Security

One-year retrospective: One year ago today, I reported that National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair told a Senate panel that if the economic crisis lasted more than two years, it could cause serious damage to U.S. strategic and national security interests. “The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic interests,” he told the Senate Intelligence Committee, as Congress prepared to vote on a $789 billion stimulus package.

6 Responses to “Operation Moshtarak Has Begun”
  1. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Marines Mass for Marjah Assault Says:

    […] Operation Moshtarak Has Begun (Feb. 13, 2010) […]

  2. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Taliban’s Top Commander Captured Says:

    […] Operation Moshtarak Has Begun (Feb. 13, 2010) […]

  3. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Grim Milestone in Afghanistan Says:

    […] Operation Moshtarak Has Begun (Feb. 13, 2010) […]

  4. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Taliban Defiant in Kandahar Says:

    […] Operation Moshtarak Has Begun (Feb. 13, 2010) […]

  5. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » Major Afghan Offensive Imminent Says:

    […] Operation Moshtarak Has Begun (Feb. 13, 2010) […]

  6. Immelman for Congress » Blog Archive » U.S. Wary of Muslim Brotherhood Says:

    […] Operation Moshtarak Has Begun […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.