February 9th, 2010
12:07 PM ET

Around the Web: The fight in Marjah 'could be brutal'

 The fight for Marjah could be “brutal,” writes Mark Thompson of Time magazine.

“The offensive, when it begins in earnest, will largely be conducted on foot. That's because the terrain surrounding Marjah is latticed with canals built by the U.S. a generation ago to expand agriculture to 250,000 acres in the Helmand River valley. It also gave the region the nickname "Little America." The canals and ditches created a network of bridges unable to support armored vehicles and gives the Taliban good places to hide IEDs — the top killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan — and snipers. They also turned the region into lush farmland that has proven ideal for growing opium-producing poppies,” Thompson writes.

“Both sides predict the fight for Marjah could be brutal, with belts of IEDs believed to be buried along all major approaches to the town. Unlike earlier battles over towns and villages further east, where many Taliban are from Pakistan, the enemy in Marjah is largely local, which will further complicate the fight. ‘It's harder to separate the enemy from the people,’ a Pentagon planner says, ‘when they are the people.’”

The drug trade is one of the targets in the offensive, reports McClatchy’s Saeed Shah.

“The U.S.-led offensive that's expected to start soon in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province will be a battle not only against the Taliban but also against an insurgent-backed narcotics trade that provides a livelihood for thousands of residents,” Shah writes.

“Helmand produces more than half the world's opium, and Marjah, the town targeted in the operation, is its thriving drug capital.”

Some other news reports and perspectives:

 - Ben Arnoldy (Christian Science Monitor) – “Marjah offensive: Q&A on why it matters to Afghanistan war

- Joshua Partlow (Washington Post): “In southern Afghanistan, even the small gains get noticed

- Joby Warrick and Peter Finn (Washington Post): “Al Qaeda is a wounded but dangerous enemy

- Myra Macdonald (Reuters): “Taliban will negotiate, but path fraught with risk

- Habib Zahori and Matthew Rosenberg (Wall Street Journal): “Afghan official held for alleged aiding Taliban

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