Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Afghan Spring Offensive

Or, slice and dice.

That Dreaded Afghan Spring Offensive was supposed to be kicking off by now.

Unfortunately it ran into vigorous pre-emptive action. It seems in fact there has been quite a news-blackout, but The Black Rod, a Canadian blog, has been scouring information sources for details.

I will extract some of it here for the flavor of events, but check out the whole coverage for weeks 8 and 9, week 10, week 11, and week 12 of The Afghan War of 2007; there are even rumors of a warm trail on bin Laden:
The Feared Taliban Spring Offensive has apparently lost is wheels even before leaving the driveway.

--Powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who was supposed to be tying a noose of fighters around Kabul announced he was ending his association with the Taliban. He'll stay a rogue warlord fighting the non-believers. But his forces will be restricting their fighting because of a lack of resources.

-- Coalition forces, with the help of the Pakistan government, have killed and arrested many of the top Taliban leaders who were supposed to be planning and financing the Feared Spring Offensive. That's left the whole thing on the shoulders of Mullah Dadullah. Apart from a great name, his claim to fame is that he fought the Russians way back in the Jurassic Age when they were still communists. Dadullah's reputation ran out last year when Mullah Omar replaced him with a younger leader at the head of the 2006 Feared Spring Offensive. That turned out a bust and Dadullah got the consolation prize, the 2007 Feared Spring Offensive against a bigger, better armed army. A great name will only carry you so far.

-- The British stopped making peace deals and went to war in a big way. They've pre-empted the idea of a spring offensive and they're taking it to the Taliban in Helmand province where the insurgents are suddenly playing defence. Who's your daddy, Dadullah?

The Brits launched Operation Achilles on March 6 but it looks like a major news blackout is in effect. We've had to pull together bits and pieces from a dozen sources just to glean a hint of what's happening.

We know the first goal of Achilles is to push Taliban fighters away from the vital Kajaki Dam project which will change the face of Afghanistan once a new turbine is installed and power lines hooked up. The push will continue to drive insurgents out of their strongholds in Sangin, Garmsir, and Now Zad where they have operated openly without fear of the British forces in the area. And we know this is just the start of something much, much bigger. More about that next week.
Achilles began when K Company of 42 Commando attacked 25 fortified compounds held by the Taliban close to the vital Kajaki Dam hydro electric power station...

In the nine-hour offensive they destroyed caves and tunnels used by insurgents to hide and launch mortar and rocket attacks. Twelve hours later a 200-strong force from 45 Commando attacked a Taliban headquarters south of Garmsir near the Pakistani border...

Elsewhere troops from 29 Commando Royal Artillery and 42 Commando have been in "massive fire fights" with Taliban in the notorious town of Sangin...

Maj. Gen. Ton van Loon, NATO's commander in the south, said that at its peak, "Operation Achilles will eventually involve over 5,500 troops (4,500 NATO, 1000 Afghan)...

While the British force the battle, other coaliton forces have set up blocking points to keep the Taliban fighters penned in.

The U.S. Paratroopers from the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, "coordinated a convoy and night air assault in the Ghorak Valley of the Helmand Province," said Army 1st Lt. Mathew Catalono.

Canadians troops from the Royal Canadian Regiment have completed their deployment into the Maiwand District of Kandahar to block the movement of Taliban. And Spanish troops have "hermetically sealed" the border of Helmand to stop insurgents from getting away to the provinces in the north.

The Dutch are supplying F-16 jet fighters, Apache helicopters and just under 100 soldiers, from the 'Tiger Company' unit of the Air Assault Brigade. The Dutch unit is being kept in reserve.

The initial phase of Operation Achilles caught the Taliban by surprise. Early reports said that wounded Taliban fighters were being taken across the border into their refuges in Uruzgan province where Dutch troops refuse to challenge insurgents.

Two Taliban commanders fled with 100 fighters to Nahr-e-Saraj, 80 miles west of kandahar. A third was captured at a checkpoint in Kandahar trying to get away while wearing a woman's burqa.
We've been trying to piece the two-week battle together from accounts of air strikes. And every day is a carbon copy of the day before---a sky filled with B-1B Lancers, F-15E Strike Eagles, FA-18 Super Hornets, and RAF Harriers dropping guided bombs and rockets and firing cannon on insurgents fire positions, mortar sites, buildings, compounds, and the occasional vehicle. A French Mirage showed up one day to launch rockets into Now Zad. And a C-130 Hercules pops up occasionally to drop leaflets over targeted villages.

Sangin locals said the leaflets dropped by Nato aircraft urged them to evict the Taliban. "The message says that we must tell the Taliban to leave," said one local resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal...
But its the story of Sangin that will make the books when its finally told. The Brits believe up to 600 Taliban are defending Sangin and the villages around it. And coalition planes are pounding the area day after day.
Afghan police conducted a search operation in Kandahar province, arresting a "high-ranking suicide attack coordinator" in Panjwayi district. An ISAF statement Monday said that Mullah Mohammad Wali organised suicide attacks in Kandahar for the Taliban.

Kandahar Fruit Exports Are Up 50 Percent Despite Taliban Woes
Habibullah Farid, the administrator of the Chamber of Commerce in Kandahar province told Pajhwok Afghan News, that despite security problems in the province, exports were not badly affected...Farid said the fruits exported included raisins, pomegranates, grapes and melons.
More than two weeks into the British-led Operation Achilles in Helmand Province and the news blackout is tighter than ever. The sliver of news we compiled last week is a veritable feast compared to what's leaked out of the battle zone since. Still, undaunted, we've corralled what wee bits of information we could track down to provide you with the best glimpses we could of what's being billed as NATO's biggest offensive on Afghanistan yet.
Taliban insurgents and their allies have been killing each other by the score all week in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan. Instead of crossing the border into Afghanistan to support the expected spring offensive, they're expending their terrorist instincts on internecine battles. Go to it boys.
Last year, up to 1000 Uzbeks moved into Waziristan to escape a crackdown in Uzbekistan. They were given sancturary by Al-Qaeda supporting tribes. This group brought a holier-than-thou attitude to the region. Literally. They see themselves as the vanguard of the Brave New Muslim World, and as a result they justify killing anyone who opposes shariah law and overthrowing any government that disagrees, including the government of Pakistan.

Two weeks ago, the Uzbeks tried to kill a pro-government (Pakistan) tribal elder, as he walked through a bazaar. It was the second time in three days they had tried to assassinate him. The assassins missed him, but the attack killed his brother and a passerby. Their target got his tribal posse together and the war was on.
So far at least 160 have died, including about 130 Uzbeks and Chechen fighters, 25 local insurgents, and 10 civilians...

A Pakistan government official said Friday Uzbeks in the neighbouring tribal region of North Waziristan were trying to come to Wana to support their brethren but authorities would try to stop them. We say: nah. Let 'em go. The more the merrier.

An intriguing question is whether the outbreak of fighting in Waziristan is an American psy-ops success. Don't laugh. Consider the evidence.

Since taking over NATO operations in southern Afghanistan, U.S, General Dan McNeill has switched gears from his Dutch predecessor and is now aggressively taking the fight to the enemy. To the surprise of the Taliban, this has included seizing Taliban leaders right under the noses of their troops in Pakistani villages.

On March 7, the day after Operation Achilles was launched, two military helicopters landed in a village next to Paktika province, and special forces personnel snatched captured Hakimullah Mehsud, a close friend of Baitullah Mehsud (see above).

The same week, a shepherd who was in the wrong place at the wrong time was seized on the Pakistan side and flown to Afghanistan for questioning. On March 17, coalition ground forces raided four buildings "near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border" and detained six men. There's never been an explanation of who these men were, so we're guessing the raid was on the Pakistan side of the border.

All these kidnappings, on the heels of targetted assassinations of Taliban leaders since December, has made them antsy. As Neil Young sang, Paranoia strikes deep. This eventually erupted in a wave of murders of suspected spies.
Let's turn now to the British-led Operation Achilles in Helmand province. It looks like the fighting has died down around Kajaki Dam, but not around Sangin, which was the most attacked British outpost in Afghanistan. The skies around Sangin are filled with planes daily supporting the British forces. 500-hundred and thousand-pound bombs are dropping onto buildings, compounds, and cave entrances.

Friday the suspected Taliban commanders house was the target of GBU-31s and GBU-38s from B-1B Bombers. The full arsenal of airpower is being launched at Taliban forces, B-1Bs, Harrier jump jets, F/A-18s, you name it.

It appears Taliban forces are being forced west, with fighting reported in Farah province, which butts up to Helmand and borders Iran. Farah houses 1,600 ISAF soldiers, mostly Spanish and Italian, based in Farah City.

But what's exciting is that Operation Achilles is partially a test of how well the Afghan army can fight on its own. Now we can see how many of the operations in March were a softening up of the area where ANA forces would make their solo debut.
Sher Mohammad Karimi, the Defense Ministry's chief of operations, said a report from the field described the Taliban fighters as "very badly demoralized" and running from the fight. He said the fighters' bodies had been left on the battle site, allowing soldiers to make an accurate count.
The bellylaugh of the week came from a story in Der Spiegel which said The German government and NATO's North Atlantic Council have criticized US General Dan McNeill, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan. McNeill has been operating too independently and has been too brash in his choice of words, critics say.

Note to Germany: If you don't want to join the A-Team you don't get to sit at the table with the adults. You sit at the children's table and eat children's portions. It's big boys' games and big boys' rules, so stop whining.

And Achilles is only the preliminary round for a much bigger operation, according to The Independent.

British troops prepare for decisive Afghan battle
By Kim Sengupta and Raymond Whitaker
The Independent March 11, 2007

As more NATO troops arrive in country, Operation Nawruz will unfold.

The blueprint for Nawruz was drawn up by General David Richards, the British former commander of the Nato force, and adopted by his American successor, General Dan K McNeill. The new British battle group - a mobile reserve Gen Richards had asked for, and been denied, during his nine months in charge - will operate well beyond Helmand, where British forces are concentrated.
Religious extremists in the district of Swat have derailed the government's anti-polio campaign. At the forefront is a charismatic local cleric, Maulana Fazlullah. "Anyone getting crippled by polio or killed by an epidemic is a martyr," he announced at a sermon during Friday prayers
A Pakistani citizen was arrested by the Afghani authorities charged with facilitating the entry of Al-Qa'ida leader Osama Bin Laden into Afghanistan, the London-based daily Al-Hayyat reported. The paper quoted sources in the Pakistani Foreign Affairs Ministry, who said they were recently informed of the matter by their Afghani counterparts. The Pakistani, Sayyid Akbar, reportedly smuggled Bin Laden into the Nouristan province in eastern Afghanistan and provided him with shelter for an unknown period of time.
British soldiers fought a fierce battle with hundreds of Taliban fighters yesterday as a flashpoint town in southern Afghanistan erupted in violence.
Many of those fighting the British were believed to be foreigners. "There are some very strange people," said one local by telephone. "They cannot speak Pashtu [the local language], they are speaking Dari instead. They are clean-shaven and we believe they are Iranians."

The news blackout over Operation Achilles has grown more impenetrable, if that's possible. And we're beginning to wonder if the Iranian connection is why.
The map of Afghanistan lit up this week like a summer night in firefly country with firefights and ambushes in six provinces. Sounds bad? Not when you realize the attacks were fought off with heavy losses for the Taliban.
Overall, the big picture shows that Taliban forces lost 48 killed and 23 captured in a single-week's fighting outside the major offensive in Helmand province. Six police, five Afghan soldiers and one NATO soldier died on the allied side. Taliban forces accomplished nothing and achieved nothing.
Canadian forces weren't just waiting to be attacked, though. Friday night they raided a compound in Maranjan village of Arghandab district and nabbed a notorious Taliban leader who was wanted for trying to kill a powerful local tribal elder. That's going to score points with the locals. In fact, the raid was based on tips from villagers.

The Taliban commander was identified as Taj Mohammed...We can't be sure it's the same man, but a Mullah Taj Mohammed was the former deputy chief of intelligence during the Taliban regime. He was allegedly one of the few with full access to Taliban leader Mullay Omar and was a self-proclaimed "close friend" to Osama bin Laden. If it's him, this is a big catch indeed.
NATO forces are zeroing in on the Taliban command structure in southern Afghanistan, having killed or captured at least 10 insurgent leaders and key civilian collaborators in March alone.
Afghan National Army spokesmen said they had "purged" Nad Ali of 400 Taliban fighters, following a series of chaotic battles. They earlier claimed they had killed 122 Taliban fighters while many others surrendered their weapons. The troops were the first to be equipped with new helmets, flak jackets and weapons to bring their equipment up to the standards of allied forces.
Addressing a gathering of tribal elders in Lashkargah, capital of Helmand, Karzai said the main reason behind lawlessness in the province was people's non-cooperation with the government. He didn't pull any punches."I am not blaming Pakistan and other countries - I blame you, the local people," he thundered, addressing approximately 2,000 hand-picked representatives in the central mosque of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. "You are making problems. You do not want security in your province."

Karzai also answered the question why Operation Achilles has not included an assault on the village of Musa Qala which was overrun by Taliban forces at the beginning of Februrary and continues to be held by insurgents despite pleas for help from village elders.

"I do not want to take Musa Qala by force," said Karzai. "I want to solve problems through negotiations with all sides. I am asking the Taliban to stop attacking. I say to them, 'why are you killing your own people?' "
Fighting continues to rage in Helmand even though we are told little about it.

On Thursday a building and courtyard near the Kajaki Dam was hit by a 500 pound bomb dropped by a F-15E Strike Eagle. A Taliban commander and his men were killed. Two days earlier another F-15 levelled a building with a 500-pounder.

British Harrier jump-jets fired rockets and dropped 540-pound bombs on insurgents in the tree line around Garmsir.

But it's Sangin that's getting a pasting. A B-1B Lancer dropped 500-pound and one-ton bombs on buildings, a tunnel, and a wall from which small arms fire and RPGs were being fired near Sangin Thursday. The day before one-ton bombs were dropped on four buildings, an F-15 flew cover for an ambushed convoy, and F-15s peppered buildings and firing positions with 500-pounders, 250-pounders, and one-ton bombs.

This week NATO aircraft showed up over Tarin Kowt, in Uruzgan province, a possible indicator that Taliban fighters fleeing Helmand are getting caught in the net to the north. 500-pound guided bombs were dropped on insurgents in the open and hiding behind a wall, suggesting that casualties among the Taliban are climbing astronomically.
The ceasefire between Uzbek fighters linked to Al Qaeda and local tribesmen who support the Taliban in the South Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan has collapsed. The local villagers with the help of Pakistani artillery are again killing Uzbek fighters and driving them out of the region. But there's nowhere for them to go. So the internecine bloodletting will go on, eliminating dozens of potential insurgents who won't be killing anyone in Afghanistan.

On Friday alone, the number of foreign fighters and locals killed was 54. Go to it, boys.
In the Pakistani village of Tank, which is on the edge of South Waziristan, a Taliban recruiter was killed when he went into a school to recruit suicide bombers. The school teaches boys aged 5 to 17.

Police said the militants had asked the school's administrators to assemble the students so they could address them. A spokesman said: "We heard that they were looking for children to prepare them for jihad and for suicide attacks." The principal called police and the recruiters tried to run.
The Afghan academic year began March 24 as schools opened their doors to more than 6 million pupils, almost doubling the number of students from five years ago. Enrollment rates for girls in some areas is approaching 50 percent.
British forces in Afghanistan fighting their way into the Taliban controlled town of Sangin called in an airstrike by Harrier jets using rockets made here in Winnipeg by Bristol Aerospace to destroy the main building in a compound where insurgents were gathering.

Finally. The clouds have parted and we can see what's going on down below on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

And what we see is that the British are bitchslapping the Taliban in Mullah Dadullah's backyard.

The British-led Operation Achilles achieved a major goal this week with the rout of Taliban forces from Sangin and district. This clears another swatch of Helmand province and paves the way for what may be the most important reconstruction project in Afghanistan, the Kajaki Dam which promises to bring electricity to 2 million people.
The thundering blasts of British artillery late Wednesday night marked the start of what senior officers said was the biggest Royal Marine raid since the Falklands war.

As the guns fired, U.S. paratroops from the 82nd Airborne were dropped into Helmand Sangin valley under cover of darkness. Intelligence reports warned there were up to 350 Taliban in the area with advanced munitions. The warnings included concerns of reinforcement by 120 fighters from the north.
The spearpoint, an armoured column of 250 Royal Marines roared into Sangin in a 33-vehicle convoy travelling at 35 mph down the main highway from the north. Lima Company of 42 Commando under Major Gill Duncan, Royal Marines from 42 Commando were part of the initial assault which included the Estonian armoured infantry company, and Danish recce squadron, all part of the UK task force.

"It was a risk on a route we had never travelled before," said Col Matthew Holmes, commander of 42 Commando . "They wouldn't expect us to jump straight in on the road from the north. They would expect the US forces to lead the attack from the south. It was an opportunity to go for it, and fortune favours the brave."

At 3.30am the convoy hit the town right behind a missile strike from an Apache helicopter which destroyed a Taliban checkpoint before the convoy reached it.
Daylight saw a Canadian 155 howitzer airlifted into the fight.

An Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle dropped a guided bomb unit-38 on a building where insurgents had retreated after firing rocket-propelled grenades and small arms at coalition forces. A JTAC confirmed the building was destroyed. U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets dropped GBU-12s on an insurgent compound near Sangin. At one point a Harrier jet dropped a 1,000lb bomb.

Other F/A-18s conducted surveillance and reconnaissance for suspicious personnel. The F/A-18s reported a parked car, motorcycles and approximately six people. A JTAC directed the F/A-18s to drop a GBU-38 on the insurgents in the open. The weapon was confirmed a direct hit.

Reporter Tom Coghlan wrote "The Marines and assault engineers carried "mouse hole" charges to blast holes in thick mud walls, and mines to collapse Taliban tunnel systems.Marines with heat-seeking sights scanned roof tops for rebels moving to attack. The air was filled with the disorientating thump of explosive charges followed by sprays of machine gun fire as the Marines moved through the warren of buildings, blasting holes in walls and firing into the rooms beyond."

In the early stages, resistance was sporadic. Taskforce spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo said radio, letters and word of mouth had been used to warn locals before the battle started. "We asked the people of Sangin just to stay away from the fighting so that we could defeat the Taliban quickly."

The coalition troops suffered a small number of minor casualties. There were no reported civilian casualties.

The overall commander of the 3rd Commando Brigade, Brigadier Jerry Thomas, said the sudden attack sought to prevent a build up of Taliban reinforcements. "We were looking for shock action to overload the enemy command structure. Our intelligence suggests they went into complete paralysis today."

By noon the Marines had achieved their objectives. Nato forces hope to hand the territory gained to Afghan forces within the next few days.
The Taliban fighters are believed to have fled to the north towards Musa Qala, the village captured by Taliban forces at the beginning of February and held by them ever since. NATO has held off taking the village by force while the Afghan central government tried to negotiate with the Taliban to leave peacefully.

But it looks now like the British will be re-visiting Musa Qala very soon. They cannot let that village remain in Taliban control to threaten the Kajaki Dam project. Already the Danish Formation Recce Squadron, has reconnoitred the the area of Shir Gazay, between Sangin and Musa Qala.
Dadullah claimed in a broadcast on private Tolo TV last week that he had thousands of Taliban fighters in Helmand province to wage war on the British. Note how the mainstream media no longer talks about those 10 thousand fighters and 2000 suicide bombers champing at the bit to launch the Feared Taliban Spring Offensive.

On the very day the Brits moved on Sangin, war drums (literally, not figuratively) were being beaten in the tribal regions of Pakistan to announce a jihad against the Uzbeks who had settled there. The internecine fighting between Taliban supporters has taken the lives of well over 200 fighters so far. The call to jihad means many more of the fighters Mullah Dadullah was counting on will be busy killing each other instead of attacking NATO forces.
Dadullah has reacted to seeing his army dismantled by attacking the defenceless, the innocent and the weak.
Attacks like these are intended to demoralize the public and undermine the central government. But murder has its limits. An example is what happened in western Afghanistan recently.

On March 24th, in Farah province, some Taliban gunmen attacked a group of Afghan and Indian engineers who were examining a dam which needed some work. Hearing gunshots, over a hundred armed men rushed from a nearby village and attacked the Taliban, killing three and driving the rest away. The villagers understood that the engineering team meant economic progress and jobs.
As always, there's so much more, but we'll leave with this: something interesting is happening in Kunar province, especially near Asmar village.

A week ago, French Air Force Mirages flew "show of force" flights for coalition forces near Asmar. This past week French Mirage 2000s and an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle launched a coordinated strike launching guided bombs on a cave entrance where Taliban insurgents were spotted.

Same week, Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle pilots tipped coaliton forces to about 40 insurgents positioned to ambush them. And just this weekend, near Asadabad, Kunar, U.S. B-1B bombers "provided overwatch for an air assault taking place."

What's so interesting? We remember this story not so long ago....and wonder if there is a connection.

Media Release
Sept.28, 2006
Brushing aside a French intelligence report that Osama bin Laden has died of typhoid, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf says intelligence input suggests the al-Qaeda leader is hiding in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar, possibly with the help of an Afghan warlord.
Who knows?

What will Week 13 bring?


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