February 11th, 2010
06:30 PM ET

Around the Web: Are things getting better in Helmand?

An Economist report says an “important shift may be under way” in Helmand Province, located in southern Afghanistan.

“An influx of thousands of American troops last year has helped push the Taliban out of much of the Helmand river valley. Higher troop levels mean that hard-won battles are no longer followed by retreat behind safe lines but instead by stepped-up patrols everywhere,” the Economist writes.

The report adds, “None of this means the war is being won. There may be less fighting, but the Taliban have not disappeared: they simply plant roadside bombs instead of setting ambushes.”


February 11th, 2010
02:52 PM ET

Suicide bomber attacks U.S. base

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) - Five U.S. soldiers were wounded Thursday when a suicide bomber attacked a U.S. base, an Afghan official told CNN. The attacker detonated the bomb about 9 p.m. while in the "sleeping area" on the base, said Paktia province spokesman Roullah Samoun. It is unclear how the bomber got onto the base, but preliminary investigations show the attacker wore an Afghan border police uniform, Samoun said.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement that "several ISAF service members from the United States were injured" in an explosion on their base in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province. ISAF did not confirm that the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber.

There was no immediate word from ISAF on the extent of the damage caused.

An earlier suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan killed seven CIA officers and a Jordanian army captain on December 30. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, also on a base in eastern Afghanistan.  Former CIA official Robert Richer called the bombing the greatest loss of life for the agency since the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in which eight agents died.

–CNN's Frederik Pleitgen contributed to this report.

Filed under: Daily Developments
February 11th, 2010
01:36 PM ET

Afghan government to host tribal meeting on peace

KABUL, Afghanistan - The Afghan government will host a traditional tribal gathering on peace in April, as President Hamid Karzai pushes his national reconciliation program, a spokesman said.

The meeting, known as a lowya jerga, will include members of parliament, Islamic religious leaders, tribal elders and other influential people, said Wahid Omar, a Karzai spokesman.

The announcement came as Karzai has stepped up his efforts to reconcile with Taliban fighters and reintegrate them with Afghan society. "The Taliban are welcome to return to their own country and work for peace, in order for us to be able then to have the U.S. and other forces have the freedom to go back home," Karzai said late last month in Kabul.

Karzai has said that he plans to set up a National Council for Peace, Reconciliation and Reintegration, which will set up a conference aimed at peace.

 - Journalist Matiullah Mati contributed to this report.

Filed under: Karzai
February 11th, 2010
08:59 AM ET

Talking with some Marjah residents-turned-refugees

As ISAF and Afghan forces are about to launch a large operation in Helmand province, thousands of people are fleeing the area. We met some  refugees who chose dire conditions in a make-shift refugee camp rather than stay and wait for the fighting to begin. ISAF is urging Afghans not to leave their villages, but many say they have already become victims of the violence.

February 11th, 2010
08:47 AM ET

Civilian teams follow military to battlefield

WASHINGTON – They call it "hot stabilization." Hot, as in battlefield-hot.

As soon as U.S. and NATO forces can clear Afghanistan's Marjah region of Taliban and other insurgent fighters, a civilian team plans to hit the ground – possibly within hours. Its mission: help the Afghan government get services for its citizens back up and running.

That team, called a District Support Team has been pre-positioned along with the military. It includes two State Department governance advisors, one USAID development expert and a British stabilization advisor.

Because of the danger, the DST team embeds with the military, relying on them for security, transportation and a place to sleep at night. FULL POST

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Filed under: Marjah • Operation Moshtarak • Taliban
February 11th, 2010
07:57 AM ET

Q&A: Why Marjah, why now?

As U.S. and coalition troops, including a large Afghan force, surround the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, CNN asked two experts for their take on why this operation is important and what it means for the future of the war in Afghanistan.

Andrew Exum served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's review team of the Afghanistan strategy. His is the founder of the blog Abu Muqawama and is now with the Center for New American Security in Washington, D.C. Mark Moyar is a professor of national security affairs at the Marine Corps University and just returned from training U.S. and Afghan forces in Afghanistan.

Q: Many have never even heard of Marjah – why is the area such a big deal?

Moyar: Marjah is in Helmand province where they've made a major push in the past year with the Marines. It is the last major enemy holdout, and it is serving as a sanctuary - it is allowing them to stage military attacks, build IEDs. And it is militarily imperative and also psychologically imperative that we remove this sanctuary area, make it harder for the insurgents to operate. It's much harder for them if they don't have that sanctuary area now so they can still move into sanctuaries in other places like Pakistan, but we're going to work on those as well. But this is really a big thorn in our side and one that we're clearly going to address in the near future. FULL POST

Filed under: Marjah • Operation Moshtarak