Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
By Golnar Motevalli
When thousands of U.S. Marines swept into the centre of the southern Afghan town of Marjah this month, they had prepared for a huge improvised explosive device (IED) threat and sporadic Taliban gun attacks.
Instead, they found Taliban snipers with fatally accurate shots and some of the worst examples of home-made explosives they had ever come across.
Corporal Thomas Gibbons-neff, a 22-year old sniper from Darien, Connecticut spends most days in a single position in the village of Koru Chareh in the town of Marjah, looking down a scope on his rifle watching for Taliban gunmen.
By Golnar Motevalli
All militaries are notorious for their use of jargon, acronyms and code names to describe people, places and operations. The village of Koru Chareh in the centre of Marjah and a key area in the U.S. Marines’ objective to seize the town in Operation Moshtarak was also given a moniker.
One of the reasons the big U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan’s Marjah area has slowed down is because the Marines are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, according to military commanders. So use of air power, the key to U.S. battle strategy, has been cut back because of the risk of collateral damage from strikes.
Lara M. Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst, in a New York Times op-ed says troops under heavy attack in Marjah have had to wait for an hour or more for air support so that insurgents were properly identified. “We didn’t come to Marjah to destroy it, or to hurt civilians,” Dadkhah quotes a Marine officer as saying after he waited 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles.
It is a measure of the shadowy nature of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan that it is hard to come up with even a couple of names of senior figures who could possibly succeed top commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader following his capture in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid.
Such is the diffused leadership structure - more like a franchise down to the villages – that the only thing you can say for certain is that the Islamist movement is still led by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar, although according to reports he hasn’t been seen even by his own followers in the past three years.
U.S.-led NATO and Afghan forces are in the third day of their offensive to establish control over the town of Marjah and surrounding areas in southern Afghanistan.
U.S-led NATO forces launched early on Saturday an offensive against a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, said to be one of the biggest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 While the operation to clear and “hold forever” the town of Marjah may not be the turning point in the eight-year Afghan war, it’s the first big test of President Barack Obama’s troop surge strategy.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told CNN this week that his biggest worry was not Afghanistan, not Iraq and not even Iran which is hurtling into a fresh confrontation with the West over its nuclear programme. The big concern was Pakistan with its nuclear weapons and a radicalised section of society.
“It’s a big country. it has nuclear weapons that are able to be deployed. It has a real significant minority of radicalised population. It is not a completely functional democracy in the sense we think about it. And so….. that’s my greatest concern.”
from UK News:
Dozens of chaplains from the Church of England are serving with British armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are there when soldiers seek redemption around the time of battle, and they there are, standing in the operating theatre, waiting until the surgeon can do no more.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
In "My Life with the Taliban", Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.
"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.
(U.S. Marines in a dust storm in a camp near Marjah. Photograph by Reuters’ Goran Tomasevic)
Reuters correspondent Golnar Motevalli is on an embed with U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province ahead of a widely-flagged operation against the Taliban. Here’s her account, going into battle.