February 8th, 2010
10:31 AM ET

Worst-kept secret of the war in Afghanistan

[cnn-video url=http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2010/02/07/abawi.afghan.offensive.cnn]

It’s the worst kept secret of the Afghan war and is expected to be the largest NATO operation since the war began in 2001. 

In an interview last December, Brigadier General Larry Nicholson told CNN that the next major battle would be in the city of Marjah in the southern province of Helmand.

And still today, the voices are more abundant and even louder on the impending battle.

“Where else would we go?” Nicholson told reporters recently.  “It’s the only place left in the Marine's area of operations that we’re not in.”

"I think there's a certain strength in the Pashtunwali culture just from laying it out there in saying, 'Hey, we are coming. Deal with it,'" said Nicholson.

Marjah is the last major Taliban stronghold in Helmand province.  The city encompasses around 100,000 people and holds some of the richest farmlands in Afghanistan.

The offensive has not yet started in full force, but British and Afghan troops have conducted air and ground
operations to prepare for it, the British Ministry of Defence has said.

Coalition military commanders have not said when the offensive will start, other than to say it will be soon.

Capturing Marjah would be an example of the strategy by Gen. Stanley McChrystal (commander of International Security Assistance Force) to focus on population centers and separate the people from the Taliban and then try to gain their trust. 
Marjah’s fertile land is ripe for farming poppies and its absence of governance keeps the drug trade alive and strong.

A shadow Taliban government also presides in the city and those who come in and out are forced to pay a tax to the Taliban at various checkpoints surrounding the city.

Operation Moshtarak, or "together" in Dari, is already in its shaping phases. British forces are clearing and paving the way for the U.S. Marines and their Afghan partners to enter the city and claim it for the Afghan government.

This is expected to be the largest show of international and Afghan force working together in order to shape, clear, hold and build.

But the challenges are abundant and the fear is that by announcing the impending battle, the Taliban have had plenty of time to booby trap the area with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other deadly surprises.

The number one killer of coalition forces are IEDs.  And in Helmand, more than 80 percent of casualties among the troops are because of IED attacks. 

The coalition says that they are preparing for a bloody battle and boosting its hospital staff in nearby Camp Bastion.

“The IEDs are getting more powerful, they’re getting harder to detect.  And they’re just getting more forceful,” says U.S. Navy doctor, Lt. Commander Gregg Gellman.

Marjah is not expected to be an easy fight. 

And the major question that remains is, what if this doesn’t work?  Where does that leave the Afghans who have already grown weary of a government they don’t trust and foreigners who some Afghans say haven’t brought them much change in over eight years?

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Eric

    15000 Nato soldiers + thousands of Afghan soldiers with the most high tech weapons and massive air support against 600 taliban with AK47s and RPGs and the still they talk about "And the major question that remains is, what if this doesn’t work?" This is laughable or are the Taliban the real Superpower of the world!!!

    February 9, 2010 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. yousef

    good luck to all the soldiers there

    February 9, 2010 at 4:31 am | Report abuse |
  3. Rick Indiana

    That just shows the ignorance of the US Military letting them know that their coming in. Gives the enemy plenty of time loading up the town with IEDs to kill our troops. Giving them time to organize. STUPID IDEA

    February 9, 2010 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  4. Stephen Scheer

    Fathers and Mothers stop sending your sons and daughters over to Afganistan and any other region of the world for that matter to die for corporate America. Wake up America war is big buisness!! And your paying for it with your blood!!!

    February 9, 2010 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  5. Marco van Lieshout

    Euhmmmm ,,,, could anyone explain to me again why we are fighting in Afghanistan? Why don't we just drop crispy bank notes knee deep until they (everybody out there) stops fighting? I mean, for a bilion a week we could BUY the place.

    February 9, 2010 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
  6. Murtaza

    Thanks genreal Mack Kiristal.
    This is the way to deal with exterimism and Taliban. If they run from Marjah the coalition force should follow them.The people who do not belive to the humanity do not have the right to be dealed with them in a peaceful way.

    February 9, 2010 at 1:40 am | Report abuse |
  7. Dee

    My son is one of those brave Marines in Afghanistan. I'm not sure how I feel about the world knowing what our military is up to. I just hope this war finally comes to an end and that all our military personnel come out of this alive.

    February 8, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. paul for canada

    bin l is walking around pakistan in a baraque and boards for shoes,

    February 8, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. specter

    Afganistan could have been a much better place if we would have dedicated the man power and money that we put into iraq. Sadam would have worked with us ti keep iran in check and alqaeda in iraq would have never existed. Bush was a simplton fool who let others think for him and obama isn't much better. So what do we do now? Well we either leave and let the taliban have it back and all this was for nothing. Or, we can get the moderate locals to stand on their feet and secure their own country. I'm not bush bashing quite the contrary, for who is the bigger fool? The fool running the country or the the fools who put him in power and follow. I didn't vote for him nor any president for that matter. When I see a candidate I can stand behind ill vote but frankly the whole american political scene sickens me and the players are a joke. Palin wants to run 2012...is that really the best conservatives have to offer? Are we realy supposed to consider her as a viable candidate? Id sooner vote for that fat head conservative spokeshole rush.

    February 8, 2010 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Arnie Williamson

    CNN is present the strategy of pre broadcasting an offensive as being new. My memory may be in error, but I believe that the Canadians who to date have been by far the most active in a combat role in Afghaistan over the last several years routinely do that to minimize civilian casualties. I beleive the last two operations the Canadians did something like 2000 Taliban were nearly wiped out. Canadians will probably know more about this though

    February 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Anonymous

    Also on the subject of Bin Laden, Its not the person we are fighting, it is the idea he created. Assuming he is dead which is most likely, someone is following what he helped to shape. Regardless of the leader, the very faith they use to justify their ways is still hurting people who are just trying to survive. If you have ever looked a person in the eyes who doesn't even consider living, but only survival, you would see that this is what the fear of the Taliban spreads like a wild fire. I don't know the motive of my government, but as a soldier I am here to put out the fire as best I can.

    February 8, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. John

    In fifty years there will be another war – if this war is even over – there will be another one somewhere else. And the media will be covering it as if it made all the difference in the world.

    February 8, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Anonymous

    I am in the United States Army, and my aviation battalion is the air support for this mission. They are making it well known because they want Marjah to know that they must cooperate. We are giving them a chance. Through out the last year that I have been in Zabul and Helmand provinces, the Rules of Engagement have changed drastically. Our Apaches rarely even fire any more, in hopes of minimizing collateral damage so that the Afghani's will see that we are not here to hurt them. It is not easy fighting in a place like Vietnam, where the fighters hide among the citizens. One day he is a farmer, and the next he shoots my friend. They are being given a chance to work with us, because without the hearts of the Afghani citizen, our objective means nothing.

    February 8, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Tyler Henson

    I believe this strategy is a good one, and i am glad the afghan forces are finally fighting with us. Maybe they can learn to defend their own country and we can pull out

    February 8, 2010 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  15. GG

    @Frederick – he just might be dead, but if he is and the powers that be know it, they could also be keeping it a secret not to justify continuing the war, but so that the extremists won't use him as a martyr and become even more extreme. It's much better if he just totally fades from existence and that his death not be used as a flash point...

    February 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Tebwea

    How many more lives will be sacrificed? It's very sad indeed, but there is nothing anyone can do to stop this war. It will keep on going for generations to come, even if Bin Laden no longer exists. Every single military man is a hero.

    February 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Uzair

    I agree with Frederick...well in a way, the best kept secret throughout the last 8 years has been the us government stating that osama bin ladin is still at large.
    Imagine if the US declared him dead 8 years ago, how would they have justified everything they have done till now?

    as for Larry...Afghans know how to grow things other then poppy, but their climate and geography does not allow them to grow a wide variety of products, that is why they still import most of their food from pakistan. anyway, all the big druglords are in the government including the president of afghanistan, u cant stop poppy baby

    February 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Andrew

    The idea behind letting them know we're coming provides us with the oppurtunity to see how they react. saying we're coming over for dinner usually lets us know what we going to eat. getting the chance to see them mobilze tells us how we're going to fight. Also it provides the locals (non-combatants) the chance to get out or, hopefully, co-operate. The fact that the Afghans will be with us on the way in is great because with us, they will hopefully get the confidence in fighting to eventually fight on their own. They need this victory more then we do. So they can secure their own country and we can eventually get out. America has only ever held enough land after a war to bury our dead. we're not planning on being there forever.

    February 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  19. John Briffaux

    Whether Bin Laden is dead or not makes no difference. Be certain that there is always someone to take Bin Ladens' place and continue terrorism. The muslim world needs to do much more against these muslim extremists and the miss-use of their muslim religion or nothing will change and the extremist won't stop. Right now the United States and coalition troops are giving the extremist what they want and that is to kill "infidels". It is time the muslim world clamp down on extremists and do their part in this global problem.

    February 8, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Kate Nemcova

    Well, it is all just a bunch of crap. No foreign forces should be in Afganistan whatsoever starting from Russians and ending with Americans.
    As regarding the production of poppy seeds, it grew by 500% from the time Americans invaded this country. So what do you think it is for. Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia all over again, isnt't it? (Sorry, I forgot that there was no US army in Laos or Cambodia):-)))))

    February 8, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Patrick

    If that were true, Frederick, wouldn't that be "The best kept secret?" He could of course be dead, but most think he is alive, therefore that would be a very well kept secret if the US govt and others knew he was dead this whole time. Worst kept secret implies that everyone knows about something even though they shouldn't, which is exactly what happened with this push into Marjah.

    February 8, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Huw

    The worse kept secret is the fact O bin L is CIA asset and will be due for retirement in two years.

    February 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  23. James

    Every single US Marine is a hero. It is not said enough. I'm in the UK (a terrible 3rd world country I'd love to move out of, if I had the cash!) and I watch the news with my jaw on the floor – the US Marines are protecting the free world.

    February 8, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  24. karl

    The Soviet Union had an unlimited number of troops to control this area and could not do it. We should be using covert ops and special forces to rid the region of terrorists. We need to stop using our military as nation builders and universal policement. They are niether.

    February 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Legendpiper

    Mankind willl never stop warring with each other... almost as if we were genetically designed for self extinction. .. at one time I had hoped mankind would put aside their predilection for this and reach for the stars as mankind's time on earth has an expiration date.... now I am not so sure we should bring our brand of 'love' to the universe.... it might be better to end it here on earth.... eventually a judaist/christianist/islamist fanatic will figure out that if they destroy the planet with nuclear weapons there will be no point in Yaweh/God/Allah waiting to bring mankind's reward of heaven/paradise .... I suspect Palin of this type of thinking..... I know many discount her chances of being elected president.... frankly I wouldn't .... considering Bush entered the white house for his first term after the other guy won..... many are counting on the democrats or republicans to not destroying 'markets' .... the religiousity factor may well be the self extinction code... there are many who believe their afterlife will be just ducky.... yet if ... as the religions claim ... the things above will as they are below... the afterlife might not be as peaceful as anticipated

    February 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  26. linda in AR

    Didn't NATO already drop flyers to alert the population of this impending operation with a follow up report that 35,000 people had left the area in response?

    To assume that the Taliban was among this wave of newly internally displaced is hardly a stretch. Probably leaving women and children. Or hiding behind behind those women and children since they are well aware of NATOs rules of engagement.

    February 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  27. From other there

    I think we would be a lot better off if we use our resources smarter. Why don't we just buy the opium from the farmers? They are going to grow it regardless so why don't we procure the vast majority of it? By cornering the market on opium the cost of heroin would be too high for junkies. This would be far less expensive in the long run as opposed to more war.

    February 8, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  28. Julie

    "The city encompasses around 100,000 people and holds some of the richest farmlands in Afghanistan." And this is supposedly the only place the american army hasn't touched. and they have chosen this place maybe because of the crops? i'm 100% for our army, but there's just so many questions about what their real purpose is. (being overseas). sometimes, it just doesn't add up to me.

    February 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
  29. Ray

    wow I can't blieve some military incharge is giving up the so much information on this raid. Is any one hade in mind what if it turns out like falluja God forbid. Any way most leaders care about politics then any one else life on this plant.

    February 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  30. Frederick

    I disagree. The worst kept secret is that Osama bin Laden is dead.He was killed at Tora Bora. It suits the americans to say he is alive so that they can justify the war. He never issues a video, only audio tapes, for obvious reasons.

    February 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  31. ahmet yurdadogan

    hi from Turkey. taliban and extremism one of the most important issues of our century.

    February 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  32. marymary4868

    The amount of troups it would take to over come 100,000 people , do they not think they would be seen at look out points coming long before and gone to another spot.
    They only way they have any chance is special ops!

    February 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Steve Mason

    It would foolish to say or to think that the impending battle at Marjah is going to solve anything. If you look at the pervious battles only a certain accomplishment came of it. Nothing has changed towards the goals of the war. The United States MARNIES need to be able to do there mission as they see fit The outcome will be alot brighter. Only the Proud and the Few will make a difference. No matter

    February 8, 2010 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  34. Larry

    At least We have other forces fighting with us... If this works there... Maybe the war will be over soon!!! Training the Farmers to grow other stuff sure would make a big difference in the COUNTRY... They will be able to feed Their own Country & Import food to other Countries!!!

    February 8, 2010 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |