February 12th, 2010
05:11 PM ET

NATO troops launch major Afghanistan offensive

HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan –NATO troops in Afghanistan launched their biggest offensive of the war early Saturday, attacking what they call the last Taliban stronghold in a war-scarred southern province.

Military officials said the offensive—dubbed Operation Moshtarak— got under way at 2 a.m. (4:30 p.m. ET Friday). By about 8 a.m. (10 p.m. ET Friday) two firefights had erupted between the Taliban and U.S. Marines in Marjah.

The offensive turned a main bazaar near the city center into a ghost town after residents were warned to leave the area. NATO forces said they are following a directive not to shoot at civilians, some of whom are still on the streets.

"Insurgents who do not accept the government's offer to reintegrate and join the political process will be met with overwhelming force," the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command said in a statement. "However, the strongest of measures will be taken to protect the civilian population."

Some of about 15,000 troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Afghanistan attacked Taliban targets in and around Marjah, a city of 80,000 to 100,000 where the Taliban has set up a shadow government, coalition military authorities said.

"Marjah is the last enemy sanctuary in the Marine area of operations," said Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan commanding general. "This operation is designed to reconnect the people of Marjah with the legitimate government of Afghanistan. We are fully partnered with the Afghan government for this operation, and we have the resources we need to be successful."

The Afghan government described the offensive - carried out in central Helmand with the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, ISAF Regional Command (South), and the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team - as "clearing" operations. Moshtarak, a Dari word for "together," symbolizes the fact that combined forces are serving alongside one another.

The coalition said its troops expected to confront up to 1,000 entrenched Taliban fighters. It expected foreign Taliban fighters to battle to the death but is prepared for local Taliban members in Marjah to try to escape.

“We will follow the enemies and bring them to justice,” said Gen. Mohiyiden Ghori of the Afghan National Army.

In the past few days, forces from Afghanistan, Britain and other nations have conducted air and ground operations to prepare for the assault and dropped leaflets in and around Marjah warning residents not to allow the Taliban to
enter their homes.

The allies had been unusually vocal in describing their plans for the assault. (Related: Why the military publicized operations)

“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,’” U.S. Marine Gen. Larry Nicholson has said.

Some of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops that President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan will take part in the fight.

The goal is to force the Taliban from Marjah so that people there can live free of Taliban influence and drug traffickers in a province with a major source of the world’s opium. It’s an example of a U.S. strategy to focus on population centers and separate the Taliban from Afghan civilians. (Related: Why Marjah, why now?)

“It’s about the security of the population, not fighting down insurgent numbers,” British Gen. Gordon Messenger has said.

About 3,000 U.S. Marines are involved in the fight.

The advance notice given to residents will help avert civilian casualties, a problem that has hurt the military’s credibility among Afghans. They are also trying to get those Taliban who aren’t hard-core to turn in themselves and their weapons.

Reaching the battleground could be one of the biggest challenges for NATO and Afghan troops. It’s a tough terrain hard to cross with tanks.

The town of Marjah is surrounded by a deadly ring of roadside bombs, military officials say.

They say the Taliban has had months to plant bombs in the ground, most of them homemade mixes of ammonium nitrate, shrapnel fuel, salt or flour.

Such bombs have caused about 80 percent of the deaths in past fighting in Helmand province, military officials said. They are detonated remotely or by pressure plates.

“This is possibly the largest IED threat NATO has ever faced,” Nicholson has said.

Massive armored vehicles, called assault breacher vehicles, were to lead the charge into Marjah, coalition authorities said before the offensive.

The tank-like vehicles can destroy roadside bombs. Even with their help, though, military officials have increased staff at the hospital at Camp Bastion, in the capital of Helmand province, in anticipation that roadside bombs would cause casualties.

Troops also expect to encounter booby-trapped houses, as well as fierce urban combat.

soundoff (422 Responses)
  1. sarahbelll

    I do not believe I've seen this depicted that way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

    March 29, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. TC

    Prayers go out to every single troop in this battle. We pray that you will ALL get back home safely. As a Veteran, I tip my cap to you all, you are going through some extremely difficult times. Watch each others backs, stay focused, and kick some!

    TC

    February 19, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  3. chris P

    A reply for Grunt
    I am disappointed that you feel you need to insult me. Every opinion is based on the information they have received over the years. I have been fortunate to travel to many countries ( including America), and have spoken to many people about there dreams for the future. What struck me was how similar people are the world over,violance is greatest where people are the most stresed. America seems to me to be constantly at war, it is no surprise that roughly 11,000 are murdered every year, in your country.
    If you really want to eradicate evil, start with your own country.
    By the way I am the son of a Cockney( east London), it was a very tough place to grow up.
    I prefer to talk to those who wish to do me harm, it prevents injury and reduces anger.
    Finally it would appear that there are now few new comments on this blog, but I am happy to continue discussing this important issue, as long as you don't insult me

    February 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. chris P

    to mom 4r marines
    Thank you for your hart felt reply. A few points you might like to consider.
    Yes they did drop thousands of pamphlets on the town, advising of the invasion, however most Afghanies cant read.
    What is" normal life" for an Afghan. I was fortunate to be able to travel through that country nearly 40 years ago, and I can assure you that the discomfort that the marines are putting up with would seem like luxury to many.
    This a civil war between different war lords, The Taliban have some very strange ideas about how to run a community, but that does not give Nato and its allies the right to decide who should make the rules.
    If the marines are so keen to protect those at risk, then why did they not go to Rwanda (Africa) during that genocide when 800,000 where killed in the space of 3 monthes.
    Chris P

    February 15, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. scd5003

    God bless all of you. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Now go out there and show these guys whose boss.

    February 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. MOM 4R MARINES

    No worries GRUNT. I support our grunts more than you can imagine. I am the founder and president of MOM 4R MARINES org.

    Now onto CHRIS P—your comment: “This battle is 15,000 of the best armed and trained men attacking a town defended by 1000 poorly armed and trained locals.” First thanks for recognizing the Marines are THE BEST trained!” Second- why do you think this offensive mission was so openly discussed weeks before they went in?? TO have all the locals leave! Marines are not there attacking the poorly armed and trained locals! They are defending them!!!! Our Marines and Sailors are not there because of oil, money; they are there just like they were in IRAQ! To get the locals Afghans back into some type of normal life, assist them in re-building their businesses establish more commerce and create local governments! WE ARE THERE TO HELP THESE LOCALS THEY MAY HAVE DIED IN THE FUTURE FROM THE TALIBAN! I RECOMMEND BEFORE YOU START TYPING EDUCATE YOURSELF FIRST! Do you have any clue what our military is up against in protecting these locals, not to mention risking their lives for these locals? Imagine being in a war and not knowing who or where the bad folks are… the even go as far as dressing in female garb! Meanwhile our Marines are trying to gain TRUST and show them through their actions they are there to help them! Not an easy task at all! Unfortunately I heard of the incident where locals were killed, we also lost a Marine! Keep in mind for weeks these locals were told and warned (thousands of pamphlets being dropped from helicopters into the city) to leave this area! If they chose to stay that was their prerogative. If you think our Marines or any of our Armed Forces are there to kill innocent locals you’re insane!!! They out their lives out in front of these locals, they live on MRE’s (Meals ready to Eat) they were freeze dried many years ago. THEY DON’T HAVE HOT WATER OR SHOWER FOR MONTHS, THEY LIVE IN OP’s (out posts) that they built, and sleep on metal cots with a cotton cloth as their only padding! Their sacrifices are huge with their focus being on protecting the locals and making it a better place for them and their children! They rarely complain about the lack of amenities… they are like you said the best trained military in the world! God Bless ALL our military! Get your story straight before you come on here with miss information!
    Support these brave young warriors!

    February 15, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  7. grunt

    mom4r marines post416 was meant for chris p,exuse the mistake. god bless

    February 15, 2010 at 4:43 am | Report abuse |
  8. grunt

    CHRIS P it is clear to me that you are a person that either is a cowrd or ignorant. Mistakes are made in war and it is horrible, no one knows that better than guys on ground. Combat is very confusing its not like tv, wich im sure you watch plenty of. As for your suggestion that warriors find a construct job is another cowardly suggestion. The men that do this are driven by a great desire to take evil men of this earth, this is a calling in some mens lives that you are to spineless to see. This is a calling that we have in our life, I know that you are probabley jealouse because you know that your a coward.

    February 15, 2010 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. GRUNT

    mom4r marines ect, I would not change what I am or try to change the mind of my manfolk. FOR MOST MEN BEING A WARRIOR IS A CALLING NOT A JOB, WE DO THE JOB BECUZ THERE IS A DEEP DESIRE IN OUR HEART TO KILL WHAT IS EVIL AND TO BE GOOD MEN. I RESPECT YOUR OPPINION, HOWEVER I AM PROUD TO BE A WARRIOR. ITS THROUGH FEAR AND DISGUSTING CIRCUMSTANCES THAT US MEN FIND WHO WE REALLY ARE,AND ARE BETTER FOR IT,THEN SOME NOT(PTSD.) 1 QUESTION, WHO ARE YOU GONNA CALL ON TO FIGHT FOR YOU WHEN YOU NEED A WARRIOR, WELL BE BUSY BUILDING HOUSES. OTHER WARRIORS HERE KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT, VERY FEW OF THE PROTECTED WILL UNDERSTAND . ITS CLEAR MARINEMOM U DONT.

    February 14, 2010 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GRUNT

    hey chris that sucks tha people Got killed, i think its horrible. BELIEVE ME, THAT KNOW ONE KNOWS THAT FEELING MORE THAN THE GUY ON GROUND, IT IS A CRAPPY PART OF WAR. VERY SMALL AMOUNT OF TROOPS THAT WANT TO KILL EVERYONE, THOUGHS GUYS USUALLY GET WEEDED OUT.

    February 14, 2010 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sam

    Praying for all soldiers involved in this operation, and for the ones who will help to out them back together...there and once back home.

    February 14, 2010 at 8:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. chris P

    I hope all you OO-RAH gung ho supporters are keeping up with the news from the front. It appears that one of your latest fancy weapons missed the target by 300 meters and killed 12 civilians.
    So much for your brave soldiers fighting the enemy up close and personal (as said by grunt)
    As for who the enemy, it seems in Wardak ( near Kabul) two different groups of soldiers decided the other were( the enemy), and shot at them. Sad to say they were both right, and fighting for the same ( NATO backed) regime.
    Chris P

    February 14, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. chris P

    To Grunt, mom4r marines ect
    This battle is 15,000 of the the best armed and trained men attacking a town defended by 1000 poorly armed and trained locals. This is the equivalent of the Alamo. Please understand that Afghanistan is not a sovereign nation, but a collection of tribes with there own local laws and loylties. Afghanistan was put on the map as a country by the last great empire (Great Britain). If you you dont want America to find itself broke( like the last empire), then I suggest you encourage your men folk to find a constructive occupation instead of a desructive one.
    Chris p

    February 14, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  14. chris P

    To Dan Nelson
    No I have not forgotten 9/11, Pearl harbour (ww2), the sinking of the Lusitania ( ww1),and all of the the other reasons that your military industrial complex uses as excuses for going to war. If you are really interested in this topic I suggest you read a bit more history, and ask your self this question. Why is it that America can find all the money it needs to send men to war , but cant find enough money to house the tens of thousands of ex vets who currently live on the street.
    chris p

    February 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jose, San Diego

    You are wrong, we aren't fighting or dying for oil, money, or any political reasons, we do it for each other. If you want to talk politics why don't you come over here to Afghanistan and you can talk to my M-16 A4 service rifle...

    Of course that wouldn't be much of a conversation, not very democratic, nor American. And that's the point. We're hopping mad because we stuck our hand in the beehive and got stung. Well, duhhhhh.

    And they do it for each other– that's the same nonsense in Top Gun and Blackhawk Down, two films that, like all military 'hard guy' narratives, are deeply homoerotic.

    If you're really doing it just for each other, and not for any political or economic goal ("our vital interests"), then stay on the base and love each other there all you want. We won't ask or tell.

    February 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Carl

    I'll pray for the besieged, impoverished, and brutalized families of Afghanistan. I'll pray that our absurd empire of bases is dismantled. I'll pray that our troops come home. I'll pray that our lawless civilian leadership is brought to heel and no longer permitted to squander and humiliate our troops by sending them off to kill and die in wars of criminal aggression. I'll pray that America's grotesque folly comes to an end before it collapses from within.

    But most of all, I will pray for the people of Afghanistan. Like any genuine Christian.

    February 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
  17. MOM 4R MARINES

    Grunt– Thank YOU for your service and time to our country! OO-RAH. I agree with you 100% it is all our infrantry that are out there ridding the world of these unhuman beings. Those behind the scenes also play a role, just not right up front in the fight. I just have a special place in my heart for our Marines, Sailors and especially our GRUNTS that don't live with all the comforts of base living.. However I am extremely proud of ALL of our Armed Forces! America's military rules, no doubt!
    Semper Fi

    February 14, 2010 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
  18. grunt

    ALSO REMEMBER THAT OUR BRAVE MARINE INFANTRY WILL WIN THIS BATTLE AND BE HOME DO TO 4-8 MONTH DEPLOYMENTS,WHILE THE ARMY INFANTRY WILL ALSO WIN THIS BATTLE AND STILL CONTINUE WITH THEIR STANDARD 12-15 MONTH DEPLOYMENT DESPITE THE STRESS AND HORRORS THEY FACE. THE MARINES R NOT THE ONLY TIP OF THE SPEAR. OUR COUNTRYS INFANTYRMAN ARE THE BRAVEST HUMAN BEINGS IN THE WORLD,THEY ENLIST TO KILL THE ENEMY UP,CLOSE,AND PERSONAL. MOST INFANTRYMAN UNDERSTAND THAT THEY ARE NOT SUPERMAN AND THAT THEY COULD ALSO FACE THEIR OWN DEATH,GOD BLESS EM. WHY IS THE SKY BLUE? "BECUZ GOD LOVES THE INFANTRY!" OIF COMBAT VET,YES I WAS A INFANTRYMAN.

    February 14, 2010 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  19. grunt

    Yes god bless all of NATO forces. LETS NOT FORGET WHO THE TIP OF THE SPEAR REALLY IS,IT IS OUR ARMY AND MARINE INFANTRY AND SPECIAL FORCES. OUR COUNTRYS INFANTRYMAN AND SPECIAL FORCES WILL BE DOING TEH ACTUAL KILLING OF TALIBAN SCUMBAGS. SO WHEN YOU PRAY 2NITE,PRAY FOR THAT INFANTRYMAN WHO IS SCARED,COLD,HUNGRY AND HAS REALIZED THAT FOR HIM TO SURVIVE THIS BATTLE HE MUST BECOME MORE FIERCE AND EVIL THAN HIS ENEMY. SPECIAL GOD BLESS TO OUR COUNTRYS INFANTRY AND SPECIAL FORCES WHO ACTUALLY DO THE FIGHTING. OIF VETERAN 11BANG BANG

    February 14, 2010 at 6:08 am | Report abuse |
  20. d

    What MAXG said.

    February 13, 2010 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
  21. MOM 4R MARINES

    George S– Very well said! I couldnt have said it better myself! As a Marine mom and Founder and President of MOM 4R MARINES Organization I must add Ronald Reagan's other quote "Some people wonder all their lives if they've made a difference. The Marines don't have that problem.”
    God Bless America and all our Armed Forces!

    February 13, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Dan Nelson Lafayette,IN

    ChisP I hope you have not forgotten about 9/11 and knowing that the Taliban had allowed al Qaeda to train and plan attacks against the United States within Afghanistan. These Islamic extremists have also justified within their laws to stone, lash, amputate people and also have shot women in the head in public to deter freedom for women and their rights. I pray that NATO kill every hardcore Taliban and the more moderate Taliban decide to surrender because it would be death if they did not. This I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

    February 13, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
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