Drums Getting Even Louder About Impending Afghan Offensive

It is getting "curiouser and curiouser" with the drumbeat getting ever louder about the impending (dare I say "imminent?") offensive and the escalating rhetoric about it.


9th February 2010
By Gary Nicks

THOUSANDS of British troops were last night poised to launch their bloodiest attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Operation Moshtarak will see 15,000 British, US and Afghan forces seizing back the heavily-guarded Marjar opium region from insurgents.

Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, 57, warned the nation to “hold our resolve” amid fears of mass casualties.

Two soldiers from the Royal Scots Borderers were killed on Sunday, taking the UK death toll in Afghanistan to 255, the same as in the 1982 Falklands War.

The men died in a blast near Sangin in Helmand province while on foot patrol.

But commanders are praying Operation Moshtarak’s huge military attack will defeat the Taliban once and for all.

It is expected to dwarf last summer’s Operation Panther’s Claw, which left 10 Brits dead.

The offensive will be led by the US Marines backed by 4,000 British troops from the Grenadier Guards, the Royal Welsh and the Scots Guards.

Marjar’s poppy fields are fought over by warlords and the town is the Taliban’s last stronghold, with about 1,000 fighters dug in.

Thousands of locals around Marjar have already fled after leaflets were dropped by air warning of the attack.There are fears the Taliban will have flooded the area with their improvised roadside bombs.

Mr Ainsworth said rebels had been warned to expect “overwhelming force”.

He said: “We have seen an intense, hard and bloody period in Afghanistan but as we prepare to consolidate our progress with the launch of Operation Moshtarak, it is imperative that we hold our resolve.

“The national security of the UK and the safety of its citizens depends on that.

“Our presence in Afghanistan is vital in preventing it from once again becoming a haven for terrorists who would seek to threaten the UK.”

Colonel Richard Kemp, ex-commander of Brit forces in Helmand, said: “The Taliban know the area well and will have prepared escape routes through tunnels, alleyways or buildings. They will fire on our troops and then run.”
and this:

Britain hits grim milestone before major attack in southern Afghanistan

By Robert H. Reid (CP) – 2 hours ago

KABUL, Afghanistan — Three British soldiers have died in southern Afghanistan, officials announced Monday, raising Britain's death toll in the conflict to 256 - breaking the number of Britons lost in the Falklands war of 1982.

Britain reached the grim milestone as British, American and Afghan forces are preparing for a major attack on Marjah in Helmand province, the biggest town in southern Afghanistan under Taliban control. Britain's defence secretary has warned the British public to expect more casualties when the Marjah attack occurs.

U.S. officials have said for weeks that they plan to attack Marjah, a centre of the Taliban's logistical and opium smuggling network about 380 miles (610 kilometres) southwest of Kabul. But the precise date of the attack has been kept secret.

Two soldiers from the Royal Scots Borderers were killed Sunday in an explosion near the Helmand district of Sangin, which is located north of Marjah, the Ministry of Defence said.

Another soldier working with a specialized bomb unit in Afghanistan was killed in an explosion. Lt. Col. David Wakefield said in a statement Monday the serviceman died in the Nad-e-Ali district of Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.

Britain's losses in the Falklands occurred during a 73-day war to drive Argentine forces from the South Atlantic colony they had invaded to affirm their own claim to the islands, which they call the Malvinas.

In London, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth warned that British casualties were a "very real risk" during the upcoming operation around Marjah, which has a population estimated at about 80,000.

"We have seen an intense, hard and bloody period in Afghanistan but ... it is imperative that we hold our resolve," Ainsworth said after the deaths were announced.

U.S. officials telegraphed their plans for Marjah in hopes that most of the estimated 400 to 1,000 Taliban fighters would leave the area, allowing NATO to re-establish Afghan government control there. The top U.S. commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has said repeatedly that success in Afghanistan does not depend on killing Taliban fighters but protecting Afghan civilians and winning their support.

But Afghan and U.S. officials say there is little evidence that significant numbers of Taliban fighters or civilians have fled Marjah.

"The criminals, the drug dealers, they're out of there," said Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. "But the die-hards, they're readying for a fight."

He said intelligence reports indicate weapons and ammunition are continuing to come into Marjah, although U.S. troops have taken up position near the town. The Marines' main forward position, Outpost Belleau Wood, lies about seven miles (10 kilometres) north of Marjah from which U.S. 155-mm cannon have been firing flares toward the town at night.

Last weekend, McChrystal defended the decision to advertise the Marjah attack, saying the element of surprise was not as important as letting the town's residents know that an Afghan government was on the way to replace Taliban rulers and drug traffickers.

"We're trying to create a situation where we communicate to them that when the government re-establishes security, they'll have choices," McChrystal told reporters Sunday.

NATO commanders have said they would prefer that civilians remain in the town to help pinpoint land mines and weapons caches once the troops arrive.

U.S. and Afghan officials have said Afghanistan's own army and police will play a major role in the Marjah operation, although the numbers of NATO and Afghan forces taking part in the attack have not been released. The Afghan army's 3rd Brigade, considered among the best, has been sent to Helmand to join in the operation, which is being touted as a major step in NATO-Afghan partnership.

However, recent events have raised questions about the efficiency and discipline within the Afghan security forces - especially the police.

Sweden's military, meanwhile, said a gunman who killed two Swedish officers and their local interpreter Sunday in northern Afghanistan was wearing a police uniform.

The shooting occurred while the Swedish patrol was visiting a police station near the village of Gurgi Tappeh. But Swedish military spokesman Gustaf Wallerfeldt said it was unclear if the gunman - who also was killed - was a policeman or an impostor.

Also Monday, officials said a district administrator in northwestern Afghanistan has been accused of militant links and corruption, the second senior Afghan official to be arrested in the past week.

Aminullah, the chief administrator in the Taliban-influenced district of Bala Murghab, was detained late Thursday, but officials did not disclose the news until after his interrogation.

He was accused of passing sensitive military and intelligence information to militants through a man who worked in his office, according to the chief prosecutor assigned to the case.

He also faced corruption charges for allegedly selling government property and cooking oil meant for poor people for personal gain, prosecutor Mohammad Nahim Naziry said.

Naziry said Aminullah's brother also was the leader of a militant cell that attacked Afghan and foreign forces in Badghis province.

He said Aminullah was arrested by NATO-backed Afghan troops. The alliance said it was looking into the report.

A deputy provincial police chief in Kapisa province, Attaullah Wahab, was arrested Friday and accused of involvement in a roadside bomb network as well as corruption charges.

Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Kim Gamel in Kabul and Alfred de Montesquiou in Helmand contributed to this report.
and this for the "hearts and minds:"

Marines focus on civilian safety in Afghanistan

Preparing for battle in a Taliban stronghold, the Marines are warning civilians to flee the area, and they plan restraint in their use of artillery and air power.

By Tony Perry and Laura King

February 8, 2010 | 2:13 p.m.

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan -- Heading into battle to seize a Taliban stronghold, U.S. Marines are keenly aware of one factor that could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory: Afghan civilian casualties.

Deaths of noncombatants in clashes involving Western troops and insurgents are one of the bitterest points of contention between President Hamid Karzai and his foreign allies. So in the weeks leading up to the imminent offensive to take the Helmand River Valley town of Marja in southern Afghanistan, the Marines' commander, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, sat with dozens of Afghan tribal elders, drinking endless cups of sweet tea and offering reassurances that his top priority will be the safety of Afghan civilians.

"In counterinsurgency, the people are the prize," Nicholson said in an interview at Camp Leatherneck, the U.S. base in central Helmand province that is the main staging ground for the offensive.

The Marja operation has been publicized for months by the Marines. One reason Nicholson has taken that unusual step is to give civilians plenty of warning, decreasing the chances they will be caught in crossfire.

It is not clear whether the Taliban forces will fight in Marja or melt away, to regroup and fight elsewhere. But at a minimum, the Taliban has had months of warning to plant booby traps and roadside bombs. The Marines are equipped with 70-ton Assault Breacher Vehicles that fire line charges to detonate buried bombs in the path of advancing troops.

To minimize civilian casualties in the event of a battle, leaflets have been dropped in the Marja district, urging residents to get out of the area.

Many Afghans, however, are reluctant to leave homes and farms unattended. For cultural reasons, Pashtun tribesmen are also often unwilling to let women and children take shelter elsewhere without a male family member.

The Marja assault will be the largest joint effort by U.S., coalition and Afghan troops since the Taliban was chased from power in 2001, and the first major offensive since President Obama's decision to authorize sending 30,000 additional troops to the country.

It is also a test of whether a large-scale ground battle can be conducted in a densely populated setting without large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries. About 85,000 people live in Marja itself, and an estimated 45,000 more in outlying parts of the district.

When Marine battalions descended on Helmand province last summer, the commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, was formulating strict new rules of engagement meant to protect Afghan civilian lives.

McChrystal's focus on avoiding civilian casualties addresses repeated complaints from Karzai and other Afghan officials and reflects his view of the conflict as a counterinsurgency -- in which winning over civilians is crucial.

As they moved to seize a string of villages in the lower Helmand River Valley, Marine commanders were careful to limit the use of artillery and air power. Infantry troops were warned not to shoot at targets if there were civilians in the line of fire.

That restraint helped the Marines win a measure of acceptance from tribal elders. So did follow-up efforts to establish safety and governance: reopening bazaars, repairing irrigation canals, protecting local officials who were under Taliban threat.

"Until we can operate so the Afghan people believe that we are here to protect them in every way, we still have improvements to make," McChrystal told reporters in Kabul this week. "It is unlikely we will be perfect as long as the levels of insecurity are as difficult as they are, but to the degree that the people can help us, we'll stay completely focused on this."

To rally support in Marja, Nicholson has met repeatedly with the district's elders in tribal gatherings known as shuras.

Sitting recently with a dozen of what he described as the town's most important elders, Nicholson asked them to spread the word among their clansmen: Stay indoors when the fighting begins. Any battle damage to homes, farms and business will be repaired, and compensation paid.

Hundreds of people have already fled the town, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross and provincial refugee officials. Some are taking shelter with relatives elsewhere in the province, or seeking safety in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah.

But Nicholson and others expect the Taliban to push civilians into harm's way, in hopes that some will be killed and provide the insurgency with a propaganda victory.

"We are up against a cunning, immoral enemy who will try to exploit war among the people," said British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, commanding general of NATO's Regional Command South, which includes Helmand province. "We want to make sure all efforts are made to limit collateral damage."

At some meetings with elders, Nicholson has been accompanied by the commander of the Afghan forces, Brig. Gen. Mahayoodin Ghoori. His presence at Nicholson's side at the shuras is meant to convince elders that Afghan soldiers are full partners with the Marines in this operation.

The presence of Afghan troops is expected to be crucial to Marines' efforts to distinguish friend from foe in Marja -- determining, for example, whether a young fighting-age man is a farmer trying to watch over his lands or an insurgent trying to blend in with the populace.

But the Afghan forces are not infallible, either. Last week in neighboring Kandahar province, Afghan border police shot dead seven men they took to be Taliban fighters crossing over from Pakistan.

It turned out the slain men were unarmed villagers, probably gathering firewood, local officials said.

"It is natural that townspeople are afraid -- afraid of losing their lives in this fighting," said Abdul Hahad Hemandwal, an elder in Nad Ali district, which encompasses Marja. "But we have had lots of meetings with U.S. commanders, and we think they are trying very hard to avoid that."

What I still don't quite follow is how our leaders think the Taliban are not going to do all they can, especially with all the notice they have been provided, to make sure the noncombatants are kept close at hand to ensure there will be collateral damage or even at least partial mission failure due to otherwise legitimate objectives being effectively immunized by noncombatants being forced to remain.

This just appeared in this regard:

Taliban will 'stay and fight' as NATO preps for Afghanistan push

Nasrat Shoib, Agence France-Presse Published: Monday, February 08, 2010

U.S. Marines exercise with an artillery piece in a U.S. Marines camp near the town of Marjah in Nad Ali district of Helmand province February 7, 2010 Reuters/Goran Tomasevic U.S. Marines exercise with an artillery piece in a U.S. Marines camp near the town of Marjah in Nad Ali district of Helmand province February 7, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Feb 8, 2010 -- NATO commanders urged the Taliban to surrender as troops dug in Monday for a major assault on a key insurgent stronghold in southern Afghanistan, sending thousands of residents fleeing.

Final preparations for battle with Taliban militants around Marjah in Helmand province, which could begin within days, had begun, a senior Marines commander said.

"The combat operations for the assault of Marjah have begun this morning," Lieutenant Colonel James "Matt" Baker, of 1st Battalion 3rd Marines Regiment told AFP, referring to the final phase of assault preparations.

The Taliban remained defiant as civilians of the Marjah plain accused the militia, which is leading an eight-year insurgency, of massing fighters and arms for a bloody battle.

Taliban fighters "prefer to stay and fight", Yousuf Ahmadi, a purported Taliban spokesman, told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"Afghan and foreign forces have come to the Marjah area and our mujahedeen forces are also in the area firing rockets at them," he said.

The Marjah operation -- dubbed Mushtarak ("Together") -- is the biggest push since U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new surge of troops to Afghanistan, and military officials say it is the biggest since the 2001 US-led invasion.

It is seen as pivotal to a new counter-insurgency strategy, which meshes military operations with the civil and political aims of establishing governance and security as the basis for development.

Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, called on the militants to lay down their arms, and said the aim of the operation was to "separate the insurgents from the population".

"From a strategic perspective it would be better but they are under very high instructions from their senior leadership to stay and fight, and they are still under the impression that they are winning," he said.

Frightened families were leaving Marjah, as provincial authorities set up reception centres and stockpiled food and tents for up to 10,000 people.

Ghulam Farooq Noorzai, head of the provincial department of refugees and repatriation, said more than 400 families, or 2,000-3,000 people had relocated and "people are still leaving the area."

Shir Ali Khan, who arrived Monday in Lashkar Gah with 25 relatives, said he would keep his loved ones in the city until Marjah was safe.

"We left the area because lots of aircraft were flying over and lots of forces were moving back and forth," he said.

But local officials sought to reassure people and prevent a mass exodus.

"We have organised local gatherings and described the objectives of these operations, and assured people they do not need to leave the area, that they will not be harmed," said Governor Habibullah of the Nad Ali district, where Marjah is located.

Thousands of foreign and Afghan troops have massed around the area in the central Helmand River valley to take on the Taliban in one of the last areas of the province where they hold sway.

Shadow structures, including courts that dispense rough justice, are operating in place of government institutions, officials said.

The Taliban have skillfully exploited a lack of public confidence in the Afghan government, to spread their footprint across vast swathes of the country.

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of 113,000 US and NATO forces in the country -- where another 40,000 are to deploy by August -- has said the Marjah operation aims to push the Taliban out and re-establish government control.

The insurgency, now in its ninth year, has been concentrated on Helmand, and neighbouring Kandahar province, fertile agricultural regions where farmland has been transformed under insurgent control into poppy plantations.

Billions of dollars worth of opium and heroin help to fund the Taliban-led insurgency, which has the Marjah region in its grip.

Four NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Sunday -- two Swedes in the north and two British soldiers in the south.

The British deaths brought the country's death toll in Afghanistan to the same as the 1982 Falklands war, the British Ministry of Defence said.

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/afghanistan/story.html?id=2537099#ixzz0ezjT5AXc
Can't for the life of me figure out what all this information campaign is for.

To get the civvies and reconcilable elements of fair weather Taliban out? As JJH says I'm sure their commanders and loyal, irreconcilable elements now have had the benefit of enough pre-warning to keep them on a short leash.

Also, if the civvies did all leave then frankly whats the point, COIN is surely about winning over and securing the population, drive out the civpop and you can't really do that no matter what land you hold.

As a throwing down of the gauntlet to concentrate en hardliners in one area for us to isolate then destroy them? Unlikely the Talibs would be daft enough to put all their eggs wilfully in one basket for us like some sort of reverse Dien Bien Phu isn't it, especially when they know a shitstorms heading their way and they'd rather shoot and scoot.

Besides, if this was the hope, the history of prior COIN campaigns is one of conventionally-minded armies looking to bring guerrillas to one decisive back-breaking engagement - and never getting offered that battle. Why would it work this time?

Worst case scenario would be ISAF stomps around looking for a decisive engagement it doesn't get and all civpop have scarpered so we don't secure anymore of the locals or bring them under Govt control, all the while at threat. I hope to God that is not what ends up happening as this has been talked up so much it must be pretty damned major and needs to go right; but I just can't see the benefit of the level of publicity to get every man and his dog talking about this.


Book Reviewer
IMHO all it does is give the enemy plenty off notice your coming so they can plant their IED's
It's easy to speculate when we are sat at home and have no idea what is going on or the big plan. I would assume that special forces will have been watching possible escape routes and taking any opportunity to eliminate Taliban who decide to flee. How much easier it would be to catch rats leaving the sinking ship than fight them in built up areas. Should imagine the UAVs are pretty busy.
eveyoz said:

Isn't it the old way of doing things such as Drums, Bright uniforms, bagpipes etc?
Without re-opening the whole War of 1812 ( or if you prefer, the "American War of 1812")--yes I know the British burned our capital-(hat tip to our "Royal/Real" Marine cousins for sparing our US Marine Barracks--now the oldest continually used public building in DC)--such an approach did not work too well for Major-General Edward Pakenham at New Orleans. :D
I heard someone say that; "COIN turns conventional warfare (European/20-21st Century) on its head" and "inflicting casualties whilst tactically defeating the enemy could actually be counter-productive".

By flagging one's intention quite so obviously, I am sure that enemy mid to upper echelon personnel will have gapped it by now. (Let us hope they are under observation)

So that leaves low level full and part-time operators, sympathisers, and everyone else.

It occurs to me that if it were possible to surround Marjah, then why attack?

If RoE, IEDs, Civ Pop, collateral damage etc. etc will make things gritty and expensive then surely putting in a cordon of gallic proportions and waiting would seem to be a better option.

ANA could still be "seen" to be the first to enter.

No media bloodfest.

Only downside, 1000 new inmates for Guantanamo. (Recognisable as they will be the well fed ones)

Also read AFCEA Nightwatch for comments.


To use General Sir Rupert Smith's analogy explaining how the media works in 'war amongst the people', the fight occurs in an arena in which the public look through drinking straws at where the fighting is loudest.

Military victory is not crucial, looking like the winning side with the initiative is. It's all about convincing the civvies that we are the side with the answers, both the afghan public so they don't turn into taliban themselves and support our forces, and the civvies at home so the political will remains to see the job through.
With all respect to those about to go on the OP and taking nothing away from the obvious danger they will face but it had occured to me that perhaps all the warnings about tough fight/mass casualties etc could infact be government spin in a situation where they dont really expect any fighting but by saying they do when ISAF forces role over the place with little resistance the government can paint this as a huge success or victory to glean more support?
What good is being achieved by all this moaning about the thoroughly-considered information strategy? This one does not come from the spin doctors.

British service families can cope with the fact that their people are busy and getting busier, but I strongly suspect they could do without all these dire predictions from armchair experts.

The strategy may prove right and may prove wrong, or may remain controversial after the event. Argue about it afterwards.
This is a discussion thread, I fail to see the problem with people on a forum airing their views (within reason) on a current military operation, what with this being the ARMY rumour service, or is that only available to the press?
hackle said:
What good is being achieved by all this moaning about the thoroughly-considered information strategy? This one does not come from the spin doctors.

British service families can cope with the fact that their people are clearly busy and getting busier, but I strongly suspect they could do without all these dire predictions from armchair experts.

The strategy may prove right and may prove wrong, or may remain controversial after the event. Argue about it afterwards.
Certainly not the intent of the original post but you make a good point.
jumpinjarhead said:
hackle said:
What good is being achieved by all this moaning about the thoroughly-considered information strategy? This one does not come from the spin doctors.

British service families can cope with the fact that their people are clearly busy and getting busier, but I strongly suspect they could do without all these dire predictions from armchair experts.

The strategy may prove right and may prove wrong, or may remain controversial after the event. Argue about it afterwards.
Certainly not the intent of the original post but you make a good point.
I appreciate that, especially from yourself jj, but I was commenting on a general trend in multiple threads in recent days. I am certainly not suggesting that no-one is allowed to discuss it on this unofficial site.

Similar threads

Latest Threads