Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghanistan’s very public offensive : teasing out the Taliban or walking into a trap ?

February 10, 2010


(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.

                                                           By Golnar Motevalli

Back in December, we were told about an operation, at some point in the near-future, which will target a Taliban hotspot in Afghanistan’s dangerous and restive southern Helmand province.

 The U.S. Marines had been in Helmand since May and had already completed one major operation, Operation Khanjar, which saw them advancing into parts of Helmand where NATO forces, specifically the British, had until that point been struggling to break a stalemate with insurgents. Khanjar was very well covered by the media and it was touted as the biggest Marine offensive since the battle of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004 and the biggest airborne assault since the Vietnam War.

Operation Moshdarak, we have been told for the past two months, will apparently trump Khanjar in size and scale. It involves less Marines but more Afghan troops and more British troops.  Moshdarak, which aims to take Marjah, a town said by Marine commanders to be one of the few left in Helmand still under total Taliban control, has been promoted by the U.S. military and NATO with enthusiasm and zeal.

Much has also been made of the Afghan army contribution to the operation. There will be more Afghan soldiers involved in Moshdarak than in any other joint operation conducted in the war in Afghanistan so far. But the emphasis on the Afghan soldier’s involvement serves more as a signal from Washington to Kabul and the rest of the world that Afghans need to start taking over the steering wheel when it comes to managing their own security. Ill equipped, and young, there are question marks over how much power and strength the Afghan army can bring to an operation this size.

 The reason for publicising the operation so far in advance and feeding it to the media, we have been told, is so that Taliban fighters come out of the woodwork and prepare to face the strength of the U.S. military and its allies. NATO also hopes that radio announcements will persuade some fighters to give up and run away.

But the months of notice have also given insurgents ample opportunity to place plenty of bombs and booby traps in Marjah. Heavy rainfall in and around the town in the last few days may have done some damage to command-wire bombs – the kind that are triggered by a spotter from a distance. But Marines and soldiers say they never underestimate the deftness of their enemy when it comes to their crude expertise in the lethal art of bomb-making. They often comment on insurgents’ canny ability at planting complex networks of explosives and their success with tricky ambushes that force foreign troops to take cover behind walls rigged with bombs.

 On some bases close to Marjah, Marines say they are already finding an average of three improvised explosive devices a day on the outskirts of the town. What awaits them in the centre of Marjah, only the insurgents know.


On one side the invaders have widely publicised their intention to break the stalemate with the Taliban. After more than 8 years common people like me have been fed with news about the invaders’ victories one after another, year in year out, but the Talibans are still there.
How come the most powerful army the world plus its powerful allies are taking 8 years to subdue a small, unsophisticated, disarrayed and outgunned enemy (as we are told) and still claiming victories one after another with no ultimate victory within sight?
Would the ultimate victory of the invaders come very near or are they going to leave Afghanistan in disgrace after their eventually defeat by the Taliban? One thing I am sure of is that the invaders are spending billions of unproductive fortunes in pursuit of wishful victory despite chronic financial and economic problems at homes.
Arrogance has no limit. It may be better to be broke than to face humiliation of a defeat.

Posted by Mutalib | Report as abusive

I have been trying to understand this Marjah operation. And no one has identified what constitutes the town. The Marjah and Nad Ali irrigated area is a wide expanse of small irrigated farms (built by the US in the 1950s go figure and now the opium bread basket for Afghanistan) with a few urban clusters primarily to the west and northwest of Laskar Gah.

Just trying to get a picture of what the Marines, Brits, and Afghan Army are facing.

Been enjoying this informative blog.


Posted by Michael Quirke | Report as abusive

This is just a face saving exercise with the people who are armed with the Will of God and determined to fight to death which is a win win situation (Victory or Paradize). What a wonderful prize!!!!!!!!!

Posted by Bull | Report as abusive

i dont understand why the most powerfull & hitech army needs 100000 plus soldiers to controll as said 1000 talibans without proper arms salute to taliban fighters this is the proof that Allah is with them victory is around the corner for mujahideen

Posted by shoaib | Report as abusive

why world call muslims terrorists i want to ask whole world who started world war 1 & 2 ? were they muslims if not then why those countries are called terrorist. on the other hand they became care takers of mankind after slaughtering millions england ruled & tortured half world for centuries and in 50 years of gap england became worlds most decent country on the earth. why they are so much intrested in muslim countries. they are imposing sanctions on muslim countries & leaving them without choice than war. Americans will pay for it

Posted by shoaib | Report as abusive

Thanks Michael for your comments. On Marjah here is an interesting bit that you might have seen : 02/10/mythbusting-marjeh/

Posted by Sanjeev Miglani | Report as abusive

The comments on this blog DISGUST me. It sounds like some of you cowards should be fighting alongside the Taliban, and not posting on a blog.

Invaders? Really? Afghanistan/Pakistan is part of the most corrupt, disgusting, backwards hellhole region on earth. They are responsible for harboring groups that employ terrorism and death around the world, yet we’re supposed to sit around and take it??? Your own countries can’t even PROTECT ITS OWN CITIZENS. You all disgust me. I say we give up trying to civilize these barbarians, giving warnings, apologizing for killing terrorists, and turn that part of the world into a parking lot and move on. Get rid of most of the world’s heroine and a ton of problematic people in one fell swoop.

Call me whatever, but by reading comments from some of my fellow “humans” on here, it seems you all are terrorist sympathizers. Hijack Islam and kill innocents with it. Awesome. You all should be proud of your brethren.

Furthermore, to answer your question about the problems of fighting these insurgents. It’s simple- it’s hard to fight little rats when they keep running back to their holes. To the Taliban’s credit, they are veteran fighters and highly sophisticated in their attacks. However, they’re like rats, eat, sleep, say their prayers, and launch attacks, repeat. Funny that many of the Afghan people hate the Taliban, yet many of you posters support them (or so it sounds like). I hope you meet your demise too. Shame on you all.

God Bless America and it’s Allies, and the brave men fighting for our way of life against these primitive barbarians. May we FOR ONCE unleash our military power and hell upon this backwards part of the world. Attack us, and pay the price. We didn’t forget, we just more serious.

Posted by Ridiculous | Report as abusive

Why do American forces make so many tragic “mistakes.” Firing at the wrong target, and going against the objectives of their own strategy?

The first Gulf war was the same: the only British casualties were from “friendly” American fire.

Posted by Jon | Report as abusive

@mr ridiculous
you have choosen the right name for your comments.You have a history of two hundred odd years and claim God bless America. Hw many wars the disunited states of America must loose and how much badwill people need to have for the Americans before you would learn to be yourself. To day you have a kenyan as your President, next time Mr Odinga Odinga from Zimbabwe and later the speedy gonzales from Mexico are going to be your Presidents, to make you realise that you are no longer a cohesive nation but a bunch of analogue people who are trying to be the policemen of the world. Perhaps it is time to get sober and start reading the history of Romans who lost their empire and became Italians.
Your marines were the only missing bodies in the desert and mountanous region of Afghanistan, perhaps you should encourage the private citizens Dick Cheney and George W to accompany the great narines to fight the poor shoeless snipers of the desert.

Posted by rex minor | Report as abusive

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