American, British and Afghan forces have been engaged in a battle to retake Musa Qala in Helmand province since Tuesday. It is an operation so big that aircraft being used in the Iraq war have reportedly been moved to Afghanistan for the fight.
Musa Qala is said to be the one urban area held by the insurgents, who have occupied the area since February. (See this blog entry for more on the Taliban occupation of Musa Qala.) From the Guardian:
The Times of London carried a first hand report of the only publicized civilian casualties in the battle:
4,500 international and Afghan army forces are attacking Taliban positions.
2,000 Taliban troops are defending Musa Qala.
1,200 British soldiers are involved in the offensive.
500 US troops took part in the initial attack against Musa Qala under cover of darkness.
19 helicopters - Apache attack and Chinook troop carriers - were used in the first drop of infantrymen.
12 Taliban have been confirmed dead. (link)
As we got our breath back behind the wheel of the Humvee, we noticed a white car, upturned on the road behind us, blood streaking one of its windows. Nearby, people had gathered around a truck, shouting and gesticulating. Two bodies lay in the dust.And while NATO officials proudly announced that the Afghan National Army was taking the lead in the attack, thus proving its battle-readiness, the Times piece reveals the hollowness of that claim:
British troops went forward to offer their help, but were turned back by angry bystanders shouting, “Go away,” in English.
Amid the confusion, it took some time for the sequence of events to become clear. But in the end there was no doubt that the two civilians had been killed by American gunfire.
As we had approached the village, the Taliban had fired at us from five or six positions.
Once the shooting began, the refugees in the truck and car tried desperately to escape and had driven past us at high speed. Their flight took them directly towards two US Humvees parked by the side of the road.
The Americans, thinking they were under attack from a suicide bomber, opened fire, killing the driver and a passenger in the truck. Three others were injured: a woman with a bullet wound in her face, a boy who was shot in the arm and a girl with a serious gash in her side. The children were both about five years old.
The Afghans were supposedly fighting under their own command. Yet they could barely function without Nato’s protection and Nato had to cajole them to move forward.
Another complication was the use of cannabis by Afghan soldiers. “Hashish is part of our culture,” said an Afghan officer. “It is just like whisky and wine for you.” (link)