February 12th, 2010
02:32 PM ET

Military: Leaflet drop warning a prelude to major Afghan battle

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan and international forces gearing up for a major offensive in Helmand province dropped leaflets Friday warning people not to give shelter to the Taliban.

Daud Ahmadi, the spokesman of Helmand province, said the leaflets fell in and around the city of Marjah - a Taliban stronghold.

"Do not allow the Taliban to enter your home," the leaflet said, according to Ahmadi.

The push on Marjah is touted as the largest of the eight-year-old conflict, and commanders want to oust militants and are planning for tough urban warfare in a rugged area expected to be filled with roadside bombs and booby-trapped houses.

"I think some of our units will go into some very heavy contact and I think some of our units will have less contact. We don't know," U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson told American and Afghan forces at Firebase Fiddler's Green earlier this week.

"All I know is that we have done everything we can to prepare, and on the eve of this operation, I think we're ready."

For days, the military has publicized what they call the imminent start of Operation Moshtarak, the Dari word for Together. But commanders have not yet said the push has begun, and that is expected to keep the pressure on fighters in what is being called the last major Taliban presence in Helmand.

Troops also want to confront the region's drug trafficking in Helmand, a major source of opium.

Marjah is surrounded by fertile land where poppies grow easily, and the Afghan government's limited presence allows the drug trade to flourish. The production of opium helps finance the Taliban, the Islamic militia that controlled most of Afghanistan before the U.S. invasion in 2001.

The goal is to separate the Taliban fighters from the rest of Marjah's roughly 80,000 to 100,000 people, establish security and gain the trust of the remaining population - the key objectives of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

"The population is looking for you, and the enemy is not the population," Nicholson told the Marines and Afghan troops. "But we do have an enemy that will try to hide in that population. That's why we've got to be very careful, and we've got to be very disciplined, and you've got to be very accurate."

The planned offensive is also said to have the largest Afghan National Army presence of any to date.

Afghan Brig. Gen. Mohiyiden Ghori joined Nicholson on his tour of bases in the region Tuesday, telling Americans that U.S. engineers and contractors helped build much of the province's infrastructure in the mid-20th century. "Your forefathers built Helmand. They built Marjah," he said. "Americans built Marjah, and these terrorists destroyed the roads your forefathers built."

One of the reasons the offensive is being well-advertised is to lessen the civilian casualties. The deaths and injuries of innocents have undermined the grass-roots credibility of the international troops. The military is hoping people can hunker down somewhere safe before the fight begins and not get caught in the crossfire.

"Every effort is being made to ensure minimum disruption to the residents during the operation," the NATO command in Kabul said.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen contributed to this report

Filed under: Marjah • Operation Moshtarak
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Eric Ames

    I personally do not disagree with the way they are letting everyone know about the operation. Yes some Taliban will flee and eventually they will have nowhere to go. It is our governments responsibility to make sure that civilian casualties are as small as possible how else is this accomplished? Do you sound the bugle to let them know you are on your way? The answer is NO this is the only way. As far as them planting IED's and other traps is a concern of everyones but do not believe for a second that they are dumb enough to not have done so already. Our troops are well trained in locating and destroying IED's. Yes there will be casulties but this is a war on terror. Do we all forget what its like to be in the grips of terror.

    February 15, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  2. maureen molina

    How do you decipher who is Taliban and who is not? Do the Taliban walk around with signs hanging off their neck identifying them as such? I have a feeling that a lot of innocent people are going to die in this attack as they always do. If what we are hearing is true the count on bodies so far is 2-10. 2 us, 10 them. Memories of Falluja come my mind. Marjah will probably end up destroyed, civillians dead and displaced while suicide bombers go onto our bases and blow up our soldiers while they sleep. Marjah is just one city, if we manage to break the stronghold, the Taliban will just move on to another area and re group, it's not like they didn't know what was coming, it's been advertised for the past two weeks. That's the way to win a war, let the enemy know the plan ahead of time, Give them a "window" in which to plant their IED"s and do whatever else it is they have planned. Wonder how many more Americans will be coming home in body bags after this attack? The best weapon the Taliban have is the fact that they don't care if they die for the cause. How do you beat odds like that?

    February 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Elke, Germany

    Moshtarak under way or not? Just Breaking news on CNN. (Germany local time 10.30pm) It was said OP Moshtarak should be under way.
    When I understand it right, the real goal of this OP Moshtarak lies behind the battle, As the military said, the goal is to wipe out the Taliban, secure the area and then the Afghan Army should stay there to protect the people. And this offensive should also establish more trust in the Afghan government. But that is the point: The people don´t trust the government in Kabul. Kabul is far away. I´m sure they trust more the local government as the government in Kabul.
    I´ve problems to see, what should come after the offensive. Who can bring in aid for the people? The end end only foreign agencies. Is the Afghan Army able to establish enough security so that foreign agencies can work there? Have the Afghan people enough patience to wait so long until the first progress is made?
    Even when the US/Nato troops try to avoid casualties, I think the fight in such a terrain and also the battle in the town will cause casualties. How will the people respond to that?
    And another point: The foreign force will withdraw after the battle and go back to their camps, because all should become an Afghan face. Will this work? Will the population will trust their army or police? I´m not sure.
    On the other hand, I don´t know how the reaction will be at home, when many of US or Nato soldiers will die on the battle field.
    And the a real big question: When can all foreign troops leave Afghanistan and the country is able to protect itself. How long will other countries be able to provide Afghanistan with all that money that Afghanistan needs to survive?
    And then these attacks on US camps or soldiers by suicides bombers wearing Afghan uniforms. Nothing which builds trust.
    In the end more questions than a comment. I´ve never been in Afghanistan, the only thing I can do is watching the news, reading analysis and books.
    I really hope for the Afghan people that after all they will have the chance for a brighter future, especially after so many years of war.
    With all due respect to the Afghan people how high is the rate of illiteracy in that region? It´s because of the leaflets. Ok during WW II it has worked, but now and in addtion to that in Afghanistan?
    And at the very end, after only talking about Afghan casualties, I hope that there won´t be many foreign casulaties, and I think that the US and also all Nato countries want to have their soldiers home as soon as possible. And healthy!
    (Only some of my thoughts)
    Elke, Germany

    February 12, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Michael Berger

    My son is serving with the 3/6 Marines in Afghanasthan. We hear very little on CNN about the war in Afghanasthan on a regular basis.

    Would it be possible to dedicate more of your news time to keep the families back home informed as to what is going on.

    Could you dedicate as much time an effort to our troops as you did to the news storied from Hatie after the earthquake. My heart goes out to the Hatian people, but I hope you can understand a parent's desire to keep informed.


    February 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Report abuse |