Marines Meet Roadside Bombs, Sniping in Marjah; 12 Civilians Killed in Rocket Attack

In the pincer move of British, US/ NATO and Afghan forces on Marjah in poppy-rich Helmand Province, the Taliban have behaved differently in each area. In the north, as the British approached Nad Ali, the Taliban faded away and there was very light resistance. Afghan authorities charged that 35 Pakistani Taliban were fighting alongside Afghan extremists in Nad Ali.

The American and other troops that are coming into the city of Marjah itself, however, have encountered larger than expected numbers of roadside bombs and continued sniping and other harassment from the Taliban there. Pajhwok News says that Taliban subjected US Marines who had entered Marjah and were raising an Afghan flag on a city building to intense fire. The Marines riposted vigorously.

Both the British and Americans report finding large weapons and explosives caches.

This resistance in Marjah impelled the US military to fire rockets from a truck mount at what they thought was the source of attacks, but the rockets hit a civilian dwelling and killed 12 civilians, ten of them from the same family. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the BBC says, called a halt to the use of these rockets, since blowing up civlian houses was precisely the sort of thing the US, NATO and Afghan forces were hoping to avoid. They conceive of Marjah as a counter-insurgency operation, which begins by clearing out the insurgents but then depends on the territory being held in the long term, with locals being guaranteed security and prosperity by the forces coming in from Kabul. Very many rocket mishaps could make this outcome (of Pashtuns in Marjah swinging around to liking the foreign troops or becoming big supporters of the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul) even less likely that it already seems on the surface.

The USG Open Source Center translates the Afghan Islamic Press article:

‘ “The Taleban also reported fighting in Marja District and the Taleban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yusof Ahmadi, told Afghan Islamic Press this morning, 14 February, that the Taleban blew up a number of armoured vehicles of foreign forces through mines in Marja District and its surrounding areas last night and inflicted casualties on foreign forces.

Like yesterday, the noise of heavy weapons being fired was heard in Marja District today. A large number of aircraft were flying over the area and the people were fleeing that area.

It seems that the Taleban have been engaged in fighting until now, but it is not clear for how long the Taleban will resist.’

Hundreds of families abandoned their homes and fled Marjah for safer ground, creating the beginnings of a homelessness problem that the United Nations relief workers in Afghanistan are attempting to address.

Both in Marjah and in Nad Ali, the commanders of the invading forces have held gatherings or Shuras with local elders.

Pajhwok News Agency reports that Afghan Gen. her Mohammad Zazai said at a news conference Sunday that 25 Taliban had been killed in the previous 24 hours. This low number of enemy dead in the face of a 15,000-man invasion force armed with helicopter gunships and tanks underlines that most of the Taliban are using guerrilla tactics rather than standing and fighting. No Afghan troops were killed in the assault as of Sunday evening.

AP covers the slow approach of the NATO/ Afghan forces, necessitated by the large numbers of roadside bombs set by the Taliban:

Aljazeera English reports on the first phase of the campaign, interviewing a local resident who expressed severe doubt that the Taliban could be permanently run out of Marjah:

End/ (Not Continued)

5 Responses

  1. Are "peace and prosperity" common characteristics of the Afghanistan regions not controlled by the Taliban? If so, allegiance to Kabul should be an easy sell. If not, its just another Brooklyn Bridge sales campaign (with no river).

    By carrying the Kabul flag into the fight, is it possible that we are planting the seeds of a new civil war? (Been there, done that in Iraq.)

  2. "Very many rocket mishaps could make this outcome (of Pashtuns in Marjah swinging around to liking the foreign troops or becoming big supporters of the government of President Hamid Karzai in Istanbul) even less likely that it already seems on the surface."

    I think the word you're looking for is 'nil'.

    In the long (not-that-long really) run, we'll see that this is the last gasp of ISAF in Afghanistan… an attempt to stall off the 'hostiles' to allow for an orderly retreat sans helicopters on the roof of the embassy in Kabul.

    Where next? Yemen?

    If you want to measure 'freedom' in how many weapons are owned by the population at large, as the US gunnutz crowd is wont to do, then Yemen is a pretty liberated country with almost three guns for every citizen of the country (9.9 million guns/23,053,462 (2008) people.

    By THAT measure, Afghanistan is ALSO a much freer place than the US (including their women… as I suggest that any time one sees a woman freezing at night in a tank top and boy shorts, or tugging a skirt down that is too short for the woman's modesty, SOMEONE… meaning cultural and advertising pressure, has enforced that mode of dress on her, as much as Afghan culture 'imposes' Burkas as apparel for women), and after they drive the West out, all freedom loving people in the rest of the world will celebrate, as we celebrate the victory of Vietnam.

  3. Firedoglake has an interesting but seemingly forgotten piece of "Helmand History"

    “Little America” in Afghanistan: Is the US Repeating a Failed 1950’s Experiment in Social Engineering?

    Last October, Adam Curtis posted an article on the BBC website that provided a detailed look at the forgotten history of US development efforts in Helmand province. As the NATO offensive heads into its second day there, it is useful to compare the current efforts to what transpired fifty years ago.

    Here is how Curtis opens the piece:

    When you look at footage of the fighting in Helmand today everyone assumes it is being played out against an ancient background of villages and fields built over the centuries.

    This is not true.

    If you look beyond the soldiers, and into the distance, what you are really seeing are the ruins of one of the biggest technological projects the United States has ever undertaken.

    Its aim was to use science to try and change the course of history and produce a modern utopia in Afghanistan. The city of Lashkar Gah was built by the Americans as a model planned city, and the hundreds of miles of canals that the Taliban now hide in were constructed by the same company that built the San Francisco Bay Bridge and Cape Canaveral.

    As Curtis works his way through the remarkable history, it is clear that the US attempts at development in Afghanistan that began in the 1950’s were doomed from the start, but political forces kept them in operation:

    "But almost immediately things started to go wrong. In 1949 the first, small diversion dam was built. But it raised the level of the water table in the whole area. And that brought salt to the surface.

    The American engineers realised this meant that the whole project probably wouldn’t work. But at that very moment President Truman made a speech promising to give aid to poor countries. It was the start of the Cold War and Truman was going to use development projects and American money to stop countries from becoming communist.

    Curtis also provides a photo of a page from the Morrison Knudsen (the engineering firm that built many of the projects) magazine touting "Little America" in Afghanistan.

    In full

  4. ref : “[NATO-American and Afghan military] conceive of ‘Marjah’ as a counter-insurgency operation, which begins by clearing out the insurgents but then depends on the territory being held in the long term, with locals being guaranteed security and prosperity by the forces [ie., government ‘in-a-box’] coming in from Kabul; where "the insurgents" are, themselves militant counter-occupation irregulars. iow, ‘Marjah’ is conceived by NATO-American occupation forces as a counter-counter-occupation military operation to compel the western-aligned Federal administration of Kabul upon the existing regional government, such as it is, of Helmand province. It is interesting to this writer that the conception of the operation in Marjah is expressed rhetorically as a "counter-insurgency" (ie., "against something," to be sure, something requiring "a 15,000-man invasion force armed with helicopter gunships and tanks"), and not "nation building" — or even "a process of Federalization" : Certain forms of political and constitutional dispute are common to federations. One issue is that the exact division of power and responsibility between federal and regional governments is often a source of controversy. Often, as is the case with the United States, such conflicts are resolved through the judicial system, which delimits the powers of federal and local governments. So, now we know what the ingredients of Generals Petraeus and McChrystal's government ‘in-a-box are: Lawyers, Guns and Money. “Just Add Religion, and Mix!

  5. I forgot to list the ugly part… Human Terrain Teams (sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists with military, not academic, ethics) on the move with the Marines in Helmand… It's in the linked article.

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