Sunday, May 4, 2008

US war goes south

The Times (UK) reports on the US Marines' capture of Garmsir:

US Marines pour in to British Zone with dawn raid on Afghan drug town

April 30 - About 2,400 Marines, many veterans of the war in Iraq, were involved in the dawn assault on Garmsir. Helicopters and armoured vehicles surrounded the town, known as a Taleban stronghold and big staging post for drug traffickers involved in the thriving opium trade in Helmand. ...

Captain Kelly Frushour, a Marine spokes- woman, said American forces had sealed off the town and entered some areas but that the operation was continuing. The Marines came under machinegun and rocket fire. They also recovered rockets and bomb-making equipment. There were no reports of casualties. ...

For two years British forces have been trying to drive Taleban forces out of Helmand and help to restore the authority of the Afghan Government. The 7,500 British troops are concentrated mainly in the centre and north of the province but have not had the manpower to tackle the south. ... (link)
While the Times says there were no reports of casualties, as we'll see that seems to be no longer the case. Significantly, this revelation (such as it is) comes from the UN development news agency, IRIN. It is a sad commentary on the quality of journalism coming from correspondents in Afghanistan that the most hard-hitting reports often come from IRIN.
Thousands flee as US military operation gets under way

KABUL, May 1 (IRIN) - Thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in different parts of Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, as a US military operation in and around Garmsir District against Taliban insurgents gets under way, provincial officials said.

"Our preliminary reports indicate that more than 1,000 families [5,000-7,000 people - IRIN] have left the area and more people are moving out," Assadullah Mayar, president of the provincial department of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS), told IRIN from the provincial capital, Lashkargah, on 1 May.

Capt Kelly Frushour, a US military spokeswoman in Kabul, said "groups of women and children" were moving out of the conflict area. ...

Provincial officials said civilians had been notified before the military operation started on 28 April and were advised to temporarily leave the area. However, several local people denied receiving any information before the planned operation.

Some displaced families have sought refuge in neighbouring Nawa, Righestan and Khan Nishin districts, while others have headed towards Lashkargah, the ARCS said.

"They are in urgent need of assistance," said Mayar, adding that the ARCS was trying to ascertain how to help needy families. Food, drinking water and tents are the critical needs most displaced people have, he added.

The US military said humanitarian relief was not part of the military operation, but a few wounded civilians had received treatment at their medical facility.

Reports of civilian casualties could not be immediately verified due to access restrictions and conflicting figures given by local people and provincial officials. ... (link)
Canadian military officials are pleased to see the Americans operating nearby:
Globe and Mail
U.S. brings Iraq-like surge to Afghan conflict

LASHKAR GAH, April 29 - [...] The planned marine attack on Taliban positions on the southern border, described as an Iraq-like "mini-thrust" by some U.S. officers, is a welcome development to Canadian and British NATO commanders who have seen ground lost to the insurgents and increasing deaths and terrorist attacks during the past year.

But this new U.S. contribution is accompanied by a push to "Americanize" the 40-nation NATO mission, especially in the British-Canadian Southern Command.

General Dan McNeill, the U.S. Army officer who currently commands the 40-nation NATO coalition fighting in Afghanistan, said in an interview that he hopes Canada and other nations will adopt U.S.-style tactics and doctrines, including lengthier deployments for soldiers, harder-line opium-poppy-eradication strategies and the use of military forces in reconstruction and humanitarian work.

Canadian and British senior officers, in interviews yesterday, said the marines are a welcome relief to their faltering missions. But they expressed reservations about the American commanders' efforts to get their forces to adopt U.S. approaches. ...

The Americans hope that their contribution will reverse a trend that has seen control of some regions slipping away from NATO troops and into the hands of insurgents, and has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in violence across Afghanistan. ...

Gen. McNeill said that the 20,000 troops currently in the war-torn Afghan south, including the 2,500 Canadians in Kandahar and 7,750 Britons in neighbouring Helmand, have been unable to maintain control of the region, with Taliban going unchallenged in districts across the south. ...

In recent weeks, senior U.S. generals have visited the Kandahar base to try to persuade Canadian commanders to adopt the tactics they have practised in the eastern provinces, which involve an aggressive military-led approach to drug eradication and economic development, combined with deployments of 15 months for most soldiers. Canadians serve for six months.

Canadian officials in Kandahar largely agreed with the U.S. assessment, but expressed wariness at the suggestion that an Americanization of the approach to the Afghan war is under way. ... (link)
Recent reports reveal that US officials are considering expanding their area of military command to include the south of Afghanistan, where currently Canadian, British and Dutch forces are in command:
Voice of America News
US Considering Changes to Afghanistan Coalition Command Structure

PENTAGON, April 23 - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says Pentagon officials are discussing possible changes to the NATO and coalition command structure in Afghanistan. But he says the United States is not ready to make a formal proposal to its allies. ...

Central Command normally supervises U.S. military involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But a year and a half ago most of the international forces in Afghanistan, including most of the U.S. troops, were put under NATO control, leaving the Central Command chief outside their chain of command.

That is something Secretary Gates says U.S. officials might want to change. ...

Afghanistan currently has a dual command structure ...

Some officers complain that the dual command is not as effective or coordinated as it should be. But Secretary Gates says it may be difficult to change.

"The command structure, I think, is a sensitive matter in terms of the eyes of our allies," he said. ... (link)
An AP dispatch expands on the nature of US leadership plans:
Changing the command structure to give a US general more control in the south would, in effect, mark a partial "re-Americanization" of the combat mission. That could be politically controversial, given US interests in maintaining close ties with NATO in fighting terrorism.

NATO now has overall responsibility for the mission in Afghanistan, and that would not change if a US general were to be put in charge in the southern sector. But it would give the Americans a greater degree of control. ...

The overall ISAF commander is an American general, Daniel McNeill, but the only sector headed by a US general is the eastern area, where the 101st Airborne is in charge. If the southern sector were to be put under US command, the American in charge there would still be subordinate to NATO. ... (link)
Yet amid all this speculation, it seems that US forces have already increased their presence in the Canadian-run area of Kandahar. Though I have not been able to find any reporting on the operation, AP photos reveal that on May 1, US Army soldiers and Canadian Forces mounted a joint operation of sorts in Zhari District in Kandahar. While US Army troops worked in opium fields with Afghan police, Canadian soldiers (probably from an Operational Liaison and Mentoring Team - OMLT) mentored their Afghan army allies.

From the pictures, it looks as though the American/ANP troops captured quite a few opium harvest workers. The Canadian soldiers stayed a few meters away from the action, as they're not supposed to be involved in counter-narcotics.

It appears that the US Army presence has been going on for at least a couple of weeks:
Violence continues in the south

KANDAHAR CITY, Apr 20 (Pajhwok) - [...] Kandahar police have said two Taliban fighters perished during an operation held jointly by Afghan National Army (ANA), police and US-led coalition troops in Zhari district of the southern Kandahar province, an official said on Sunday. ... (link)


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