Sunday, August 16, 2009

Foreigners struggle to hold territory

We saw in a recent blog post that there is good reason to believe that the US Marines' offensive in Helmand is underperforming expectations. Now it seems that American officials are trying to lay blame elsewhere. The Sunday Times reports that, in the best of cowardly fashions, the Americans have pointed their fingers at the British troops:

Americans say British cannot hold Afghan siege city
The British needed 5,000 men to recapture Musa Qala
Michael Smith - The Sunday Times

Aug 16 - Britain is under pressure to give up an Afghan town where it has fought numerous bloody battles because the Americans claim the army is too overstretched to hold on to it.

US commanders want to take control of Musa Qala in northern Helmand province, arguing that Britain’s forces are already hard-pressed trying to control the so-called green zone further south.

Musa Qala has great symbolic importance for the British, who have lost 18 soldiers there. They seized it from the Taliban in 2006 before pulling out in a deal with local elders. The agreement broke down, however, and it took 5,000 men to recapture the town of 50,000 inhabitants in 2007.

Musa Qala is 50 miles north of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, and is one of the most northerly British outposts.

The recent Operation Panther’s Claw, which cleared the Taliban from 150 square miles of the green zone north and northwest of Lashkar Gah, has left troops exhausted.

British defence sources said they barely had enough men to mount “framework patrols” to secure the cleared area... (link)
Note that the Brits are attempting to hold 150 sq miles of Helmand. I have seen no estimate of the territory which the Americans have cleared after their (apparently completed) Operation Khanjar, though some early reports (NYT, July 3) indicated that they were concentrating on a stretch of the Helmand River some 75 miles long. This appears to be a chunk of land similar in size to what the British are apparently attempting to hold.

So in the province of Helmand, with an area of 22,000 sq miles, the American and UK forces hold perhaps 300 sq miles, or about 1.3% of Helmand's area.

An earlier blog post related the German army's recent post-WW2 milestone of participation in a military offensive. Here's how their offensive in in the northen province of Kunduz turned out:
Situation Worsens in Northern Afghansitan
Taliban Makes Blitz Comeback Near Kunduz

By Matthias Gebauer and Shoib Najafizada in Kabul
Der Spiegel - Aug 3, 2009

Taliban fighters are returning to an area in northern Afghanistan just days after being driven off in a combined Afghan-German military operation. There's growing concern that the Taliban -- and al-Qaida fighters -- are forming strongholds in what had been the relatively peaceful north...

Bad news has been coming out of the region in recent days following the joint Operation Adler, or Eagle, by Afghan and German armed forces to flush out Taliban militants. German officers have heard numerous Afghan reports that the Taliban have been holding virtual victory celebrations in Chahar Dara, the Taliban stronghold in the north.

The main aim of the operation of the last two weeks was to seize the area from the Taliban in order to make it safe for upcoming elections. Operation Adler appeared successful in briefly clearing out the armed insurgents. But it didn't beat them into a lasting retreat. By late last week, parts of the area were again under the "complete control of the Taliban," district chief Khel says...

The Germans have also been noting a return of the insurgents to their stronghold -- undeterred by the Afghan army. The area is far too large to be controlled by a contingent of 300 ANA soldiers. But the German army isn't in a position to stop them, either. They're being forced to watch as the Taliban return to a stronghold located just a 15-minute drive away from the German camp... (link)
And finally, the Toronto Star's Rosie Dimanno reveals the apparent inadequecy of the Canadian contingent for perhaps most of its life in Afghanstan. Canada's commander in Afghanistan blames "insufficient forces in the past" for the Canadian Forces inability "to do the primary offensive operations as well as the security tasks" necessary to pacify Afghansitan:
Taking the fight back to Kandahar city
Rosie Dimanno - Toronto Star

KABUL, Aug 14 - This time, they think they've got it, they've really got it: A plan, a strategy, a clear objective, a hope in hell...

The Americans have come, 4,000 Stryker Brigade troops, nearly double the Canadian component that has been stretched so pitifully, if valiantly, thin these past five years...

For soldiers and their commanders on the ground, there is at least now, with this rotation, some clarity and well-defined goals, more narrowly but also more sensibly drawn on the mission map: To secure Kandahar city and the radiating communities of that heavily populated area; to move into a satellite of outskirt villages, basically living among the citizenry; and to plant themselves in the heart of the Taliban insurgency rather than chase inconsequential fighter cells hither and yon across complicated terrain that favours the opposition...

"There were insufficient forces in the past to conduct a proper counter-insurgency," [Brig-Gen. Jon] Vance said. "We didn't have the capacity to do the primary offensive operations as well as the security tasks, all those things that encourage proper governance and development."

Canada sacrificed treasured lives establishing far-flung outposts (distance is relative when 70 kilometres from the airfield is the Wild West) to expand what was in fact a lightly indented footprint...

"We were able to address only part of the problem," Vance sighed. "With some of those small combat outposts, the net effect didn't establish security. We were fixed and the insurgents were able to move around us."

In hindsight, that was not the best use of Canada's limited resources... (link)

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