US Forces in Afghanistan

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by tomahawk6, Apr 29, 2007.

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  1. The new ISAF commander General McNeil has put US forces on the offense which has disrupted the Taliban spring offensive. He has also reversed the British strategy of making local truces with the Taliban, a carry over of the UK practice in Basra.


    Caught in the middle of the Helmand river, the fleeing Taliban were paddling their boat back to shore for dear life.

    Smoke from the ambush they had just sprung on American special forces still hung in the air, but their attention was fixed on the two helicopter gunships that had appeared above them as their leader, the tallest man in the group, struggled to pull what appeared to be a burqa over his head.

    As the boat reached the shore, Captain Larry Staley tilted the nose of the lead Apache gunship downwards into a dive. One of the men turned to face the helicopter and sank to his knees. Capt Staley's gunner pressed the trigger and the man disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust.

    By the time the gunships had finished, 21 minutes later, military officials say 14 Taliban were confirmed dead, including one of their key commanders in Helmand.

    The mission is typical of a new, aggressive, approach adopted by American forces in southern Afghanistan and particularly in Helmand, where British troops last year bore the brunt of some of the heaviest fighting since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

    American commanders believe that the uncompromising use of airpower in recent weeks has been a key factor in preventing the Taliban from launching their expected full-scale spring offensive against coalition forces and forcing them to rethink their tactics.

    Aircrews say they have been told to show no mercy, but to press home their advantage until all their targets have been destroyed. The Apache attack was one of five in three days in -Helmand, where British troops operate alongside a much smaller contingent of American infantry and special forces.

    Capt Staley, the commander of the Apache unit based at Kandahar airfield, described how his helicopters had arrived just after an ambush by Taliban fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, on a detachment of American special forces and an infantry unit. In the second Apache, 1st Lt Jack Denton, 26, was in radio contact with the special forces unit, Scorpion 36, on the ground.

    The soldiers said they had information that the Taliban were escaping across the river. "Look out for any boats," they said. He spotted a small aluminium fishing boat pushing out from the eastern shore of the 200-yard-wide river. In it were six or seven people. When they caught sight of the Apaches, they started to paddle back towards shore.

    The aircrew hesitated. "It seemed a little premature," said Lt Denton. "We didn't have hostile intent or a positive ID from the ground commander." But the special forces soldiers were adamant that, although they could not themselves see the men on the boat, they must be the Taliban who had attacked them. That, said Lt Denton, was good enough for the Apache crews.

    By then, most of the men were ashore, walking quickly towards the tree line. They appeared to be pulling clothing over their heads - burqas, Capt Staley thought, and Lt Denton concurred. As the helicopters came in to attack, Lt Denton said, one of the men turned to face him and dropped to his knees. "I think he knew that there was no hope," he said. "He was making his peace."

    Capt Staley's helicopter hit them with its rockets while Lt Denton, the gunner in the other helicopter, opened up with his 30mm cannon. Three or four of the Taliban died where they stood and the rest made a dash for the trees. "They were trying to get to their bunkers," Capt Staley said. "We started a diving run and destroyed four of the six people we could see, including the Taliban commander."

    From 500ft up, Lt Denton said: "You can see the person but you can't see the features of his face. The 30mm explode when they hit and kick up smoke and dust. You just see a big dust cloud where the person used to be."

    As the Apaches came in for another run, Capt Staley said, he saw the muzzle flashes of automatic weapons among the trees. A rocket-propelled grenade screamed towards his helicopter, but it passed by harmlessly.

    The Apaches made eight attacking runs and, by the end, the bodies of 14 Taliban littered the shore. Another two were spotted floating down the river. Any survivors did not hang about. "They usually extricate their dead but this time they left them there," Capt Staley said.

    American intelligence named the dead commander as Mullah Najibullah, who, they said, had been responsible for leading attacks against British forces in and around the town of Sangin, in Helmand.

    The attack, and four other missions against suspected Taliban compounds, are clearly effective, but the stakes are high. Coalition attacks on mistakenly identified targets here, as in Iraq, have left dozens of civilians dead and wounded and can act as a recruiting sergeant for the terrorists.

    But Capt Staley said he had no qualms about pressing home such attacks until no one was left standing and claimed that American pilots were more effective than their British Apache counterparts, who he said flew higher and were less ruthless in finishing off their targets. "The Brits are good but they don't have the extreme aggression that we do."

    Lt Denton, too, believed they were striking the right balance.

    "Usually, right before the engagement, you stop and think, 'Are you sure?', because you are going to be taking someone's life, but everything happens so fast you have to make quick decisions."

    On Monday, the Apaches struck again, killing 12 Taliban whom they had caught in the open near Qalat, in Zabul province.

    Lt Denton and Capt Staley were in one of the two-man aircraft, escorting two Black Hawk helicopters, when they spotted eight motorcycles, with a rider and passenger on each. It seemed unusual and the Apache broke away to take a closer look.

    Dropping to 200ft, it swooped close to the motorcyclists - and the two men could not believe their luck: some of the passengers were holding the parts of a long-barrelled heavy machine-gun.

    Six of the bikes slewed to a stop, their passengers leaping off and aiming their weapons at the helicopter in what appeared to be a well-practised drill, while the others took off across country. The Apache banked away to begin its attack run.

    "Some of them were trying to get the heavy machine-gun up a small hill to engage us," Lt Denton said. "Capt Staley used the 30mm gun to take out the two guys who had taken off, and then we fixed on the ones with the heavy machine-gun. They were huddled around a large boulder and we shot them. We put as many rounds around it as we could, because if they got to it they could cause us trouble. But they never had a chance to set it up."

    Using its cannon and then its rockets, the Apache finished off all the Taliban fighters it could find, then launched nail-filled rockets and dropped white phosphorous to destroy the motorcycles and the machine guns. After the shooting stopped, 12 Taliban were confirmed dead.

    Not surprisingly, the Apache assaults have forced the Taliban to adopt a lower profile. For the coalition to continue to be successful, commanders must hope that the Taliban do not get their hands on the weaponry that has made life so perilous for pilots in Iraq, where more than 50 helicopters have been shot down since the start of the war.

    But for now, the American airmen are not losing any sleep over it. "When you are on top of the enemy you look, shoot and it's, 'You die, you die, you die'," Lt Denton said.

    "The odds are on our side. I really enjoy it. I told my wife, if I could come home every night then this would be the perfect job."

    Btw, I suspect that Talibs use to read Daily Telegraph. However, without it they know what to do.
  3. Have the Russians sell them the latest incarnation of the SA-7 maybe?
  4. I hope that not. It would be wrong decision to sell sophisticated anti-aircraft missiled to Taliban (or Iraqi insurgents).

    However, there is a black market.
  5. Unlike the US commanders in Iraq, especially in Anbar Province, who are only too happy to make local truces with (former - allegedly) insurgent groups. :x

    Edited to add:

    Nice dig General. But we're a bit too old and bold to fall for that one. Are you really now trying to pass the blame for the Iraq and Afghanistan disasters onto the British? :x
  6. As I have stated before I dont play the blame game. Rather you have to deal with the situation on the ground as it is and not as you wish it to be. The US has borne the brunt of the fighting in Iraq as it is the Sunni triangle that resists the reality of a shia majority government. Basra until the last year has not seen the sustained combat operations that are common in the US area.

    The Basra area has been largely quiet due to the agreements that British commanders made with the local power brokers. This has changed though and the uptick in British casualties is the result - not just in killed but in wounded soldiers. The US is taking on the Mehdi Army in our AO and the UK is begining to follow suit. I fault UK tactics and not the professional soldiers of the British Army. Perhaps the stratehy was the result of a lack of ground forces to control the AO. Maybe it was a disire by the politicians to keep casualties low due to the unpopularity of the war. In any event that was a MOD decision.

    The same MO seems to be in play in Afghanistan to minimize casualties by having defensive operations. The US has found though that by acting only defensively we end up sustaining more casualties and not less. No one goes after the bomb makers or bomb factories as a result the bombings just continue. Unless the locals are convinced that by helping you they will be safer you wont get actionable intel to locate and destroy the bombers or their factories. We are seeing a greater level of help from the sunni tribes because they are resigned to the realities on the ground and are fed up with the heavy handed tactics of AQ. AQ has moved operations from Anbar to Diyala where the local populace has not organized itself as has happened in Anbar.

    I think the overall military situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan is encouraging. I more discouraged by the defeatist politicians in Washington that may yet snatch defeat from victory just to further their political aims.

    Many of you here want and support a military as long as it doesnt have to fight beyond the shores of the UK. Any war beyond the UK is not worth fighting. Its your right to feel that way. The US for the most part would rather keep our enemies far from our shores if possible. We sustained one attack killing 3000 citizens and we dont want to see any more. So far our strategy has paid off because we havent had any more terror attacks and we like to think the reason for that is our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan which has drawn jihadists to us like moths to a flame. Frankly thats the way I want to keep it.
  7. T6, I feel you've missed the point somewhat. Iraq and Afghanistan have indeed drawn jihadis "like moths to a flame" - trouble is, nearly all of them have been created by US actions in the ME.

    Do you really want to know why there have been no AQ attacks on CONUS since 9/11 ? Because they don't need to. What they wanted was US over-reaction in the ME to recruit for them - and the US has delivered on that beyond their wildest dreams. Before 9/11 AQ were a bunch of nutters in a cave in the arrse end of Afghanistan whose combat power consisted of a few blokes with box cutters. Now they are spoken of as a global force. The US has done that for them and continues to promote their message. However, as soon as the US looks like withdrawing from the ME you will see attacks designed to drag you back in.

    They say that the US is corrupt, that the democratic solution promised by the West is a hypocritical myth - to refute that the US gives them torture that isn't really torture, honest, some lawyer said so, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, "force protection" - well, lots of pictures of dead Iraqis and some US soldier saying "They were coming right at me so I let them have it".

    They say that the US is only interested in oil, that it wishes to dominate the Muslim world - and you, well, where to start the list really ? Saddam had nothing - nothing at all - to do with AQ but just happened to be in the middle of a lot of oilfields so he got nailed on the basis of a pack of lies about WMD. The Saudis run a brutal mysogynistic regime that bankrolled 9/11, whose nationals executed 9/11 - but they're fine as they sell the US oil.

    Oh, and the other thing AQ says is that the Shia - especially those damned Persians - are apostates who should burn in hell. Fortunately they've got the US working on that one for them too. Maybe that's why the US are so busy handing over Iraq to the Iranians by stamping out Iraqi nationalism, a bit of balance perhaps ?

    As for armed resistance, well, maybe the fact that people don't like having foreign militaries stomping around their country has a lot to do with it ? AQ are on their way out in many parts of Iraq, they've not played a very strong game in many ways - that means the US are next on the list, Well, they would be if many didn't think you're on the way out already due to lack of political will at home and a rapidly deteriorating Army.
  8. General,

    I concur with you comment that MND-SE has not seen the violence in other parts of Iraq. I'm not sure I agree entirely with your analysis as to why that is so, nor do I accept your premise that UK forces have only just started "taking on the Mehdi Army." There are 4 years worth of posts on ARRSE indicating that the British have been in the forefront of anti-insurgency operations since day 1.

    Your premise assumes victory is possible. Your premise shamefully ignores that defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory 4 years ago.

    Some may well do. I'm all in favour of an expeditionary force, and where necessary, an intervention force. I just don't accept that Iraq was the place to send such a force. You seem to have difficulty understanding this distinction.

    It seems frighteningly obvious to me that the al-Qaida strategists have got the US military fixed in Iraq and Afghanistan by choice. Your continued presence there is playing into their hands. There are new recruits flocking to their cause on a daily basis - all as a dircect result of US operations in the CENTCOM AO. Moreover, the US has 'assisted' al-Qaida in removing one of the major obstacles to their pan-Islamist aspirations (Saddam) and are well on the way to removing a second (Sadr) not to mention the possibility of removing the Iranian regime.

    When you pull out, then the attacks on the US will likely start again in order to draw you back into the Middle East once more. I have no doubt that some will miss this point and say this 'proves' that fighting in Iraq was the right thing.
  9. Talking to US soldiers who have been over in Afghanistan recently,they comment very negatively on the perceived passivity of ISAF forces.They were very disappointed by the British ceasefire in Helmund, and critical of the leadership to have made such a decision in the first place.They had a lot of contempt for the other ISAF forces,especially the Dutch,who came across as utterly worthless.The point was made about the ratio of IED attacks suffered by the US forces,who were actively patrolling,and the ISAF forces,who were operating in a greatly less aggressive manner,being mucher higher for the latter.
    The Dutch have recently stated that they have begun more active combat patrolling in response to the amount of attacks they have suffered recently.
  10. Possibly, 'the General' would like to comment on this from his quoted article?
    The soldiers said they had information that the Taliban were escaping across the river. "Look out for any boats," they said. He spotted a small aluminium fishing boat pushing out from the eastern shore of the 200-yard-wide river. In it were six or seven people. When they caught sight of the Apaches, they started to paddle back towards shore.

    The aircrew hesitated. "It seemed a little premature," said Lt Denton. "We didn't have hostile intent or a positive ID from the ground commander." But the special forces soldiers were adamant that, although they could not themselves see the men on the boat, they must be the Taliban who had attacked them. That, said Lt Denton, was good enough for the Apache crews.

    Good to see them being so careful after the recent 'friendly fire' events..

    And, of course, the locals love them....

    New York Times
    U.S. Says Raids Killed Taliban; Afghans Say Civilians Died
    Published: May 1, 2007

    KABUL, Afghanistan, April 30 — United States Special Forces said they killed more than 130 Taliban in two recent days of heavy fighting in a valley in western Afghanistan, but hundreds of angry villagers protested in nearby Shindand on Monday, saying dozens of civilians had been killed when the Americans called in airstrikes.

    The protesters sacked and burned government buildings, said Noor Khan Nekzad, a spokesman for the provincial police. He said none of the demonstrators were injured, but news reports said a number of protesters were hurt as the police and the army moved in to subdue the crowd.

    The American military said that the fighting against the Taliban occurred Friday and Sunday in the Zerkoh Valley, near the Iranian border about 30 miles south of the city of Herat, and that the Special Forces called in airstrikes on at least two occasions. An American soldier was killed in the fighting on Friday, the military said, but there were no other reported casualties on the coalition side.

    Forty-nine Taliban fighters, including two leaders of the group, were killed in the first bombardment on Friday, and 87 militants were killed in bombing during a second battle on Sunday that raged for 14 hours, the military said in a statement from the United States-led coalition headquarters at the Bagram air base.

    But the local residents said that civilians were killed in the bombardment and that some drowned in the river as they fled, according to a local member of Parliament, Maulavi Gul Ahmad. News agencies reported that demonstrators said women and children were among the dead.

    Mr. Ahmad condemned the bombing and said that the fighting angered local residents because the Americans raided their houses at night.

    “They should not do that,” he said in a telephone interview. “The number that they claim — that 130 Taliban were killed — is totally wrong. There are no Taliban there.”

    Raiding houses touches a nerve in Afghanistan, especially in conservative tribal areas, because the local custom dictates that men who are not family members cannot enter the parts of homes where the women stay. Such raids were upsetting local sensibilities so much several years ago that the American forces made an agreement with the Afghan government that they would not raid houses without the presence of Afghan elders or the police. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says that the agreement is still in effect, but that American troops do not always adhere to it.

    But an Afghan military official, who asked not to be identified, presented a different version of events from that of Mr. Ahmad. He said that the Special Forces had run into trouble on Friday, when they were surrounded by insurgents, and that they requested support from the Afghan National Army.

    Afghan Army and police officials denied any involvement in the fighting.

    The province of Herat, where the fighting occurred, is usually quiet, but the Zerkoh Valley is populated by ethnic Pashtuns and shares a border with provinces where there are many insurgents.
  11. The latest...
    ReliefWeb(United Nations)
    Date: 01 May 2007
    30 Afghan civilians among 'Taliban' casualties: police

    HERAT, Afghanistan, May 1, 2007 (AFP) - At least 30 civilians including women and children were among the dead after clashes in western Afghanistan that the US-led coalition said had killed 136 Taliban, police said Tuesday.

    The fighting erupted in Herat province's Shindand district on Friday, and on Sunday.

    "There were at least 30 civilians including women and children among those killed in Shindand's fighting," Herat police chief Mohammad Shafiq Fazli told AFP.