The next target for coalition forces in Afghanistan could be Kandahar, report two Canadian publications.
“If everything runs true to current form, Canadian Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard will soon loudly announce a major combat operation in Kandahar that will look a lot like the one launched by NATO on Saturday in neighboring Helmand — which came after weeks of very public propaganda about when and where it was going to take place,” writes Matthew Fisher in a report published by the Vancouver Sun.
“As the operation in central Helmand winds down, all eyes will inevitably turn to Kandahar, which is now the last major Taliban stronghold in the south.”
Coalition and Afghan forces launched Operation Moshtarak, an operation aimed at militants in Marjah, Afghanistan early Saturday morning. A round-up of some reporting on the fighting:
Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reports that the “real test” in Marjah may lie after the fighting comes to end.
“For much of the past eight years, American and NATO forces have mounted similarly large military operations to clear towns and cities of Taliban insurgents. And then, almost invariably, they have cleared out, never leaving behind enough soldiers or police to hold the place on their own,” Filkins writes.
“And so, almost always, the Taliban returned — and, after a time, so did the American and NATO troops, to clear the place all over again.”
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.”
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.’”
Afghanistan is prepared to begin taking over security from international forces in some parts of the war-torn nation by the end of the year, President Hamid Karzai said Sunday.
By the end of his five-year term in 2014, Karzai said, "conditions permitting ... Afghan forces will have full responsibility for security throughout the country, with international forces continuing to serve in the capacity of providing backup and assistance."
Speaking at the Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Karzai said he planned to build up the army and the national police to some 300,000 by 2012.
The U.S. strategy to turn around the war in Afghanistan by winning over tribes is a “risky one,” reports McClatchy’s Thomas Day.
“Afghanistan's historically weak central governments have shared power with the country's five so-called "super-tribes" and the tribes that compose them, with 350 or so sub-tribes and with local clans, and most of the country's would-be conquerors — including the British and the Soviets — have employed their own tribal strategies,” Day writes.
“Now American officials are attending tribal meetings, staying in close touch with tribal leaders and trying to determine which leaders are friendly and which aren't,” he reports. “Those efforts, however, risk feeding traditional tribal rivalries, to the detriment of any plan to undercut the Taliban.”
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who leads U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said on Thursday that though the situation in that nation is still “serious,” he no longer thinks that it is “deteriorating.”
“I think I said that last summer, and I believed that that was correct,” he said while speaking to the press in Istanbul. “I feel differently now. I am not prepared to say that we’ve turned the corner so I’m saying that the situation is serious.”
“But I think we have made significant progress in setting the conditions in 2009 … and that we’ll make some real progress in 2010."
A New York Times story on Wednesday describes the efforts to bolster the Afghan police force as “faltering.”
Rod Nordland of the Times writes: “The NATO general in charge of training the Afghan police has some tongue-in-cheek career advice for the country’s recruits.
‘It’s better to join the Taliban; they pay more money,’ said Brig. Gen. Carmelo Burgio, from Italy’s paramilitary Carabinieri force.
“That sardonic view reflects a sobering reality. The attempts to build a credible Afghan police force are faltering badly even as officials acknowledge that the force will be a crucial piece of the effort to have Afghans manage their own security so American forces can begin leaving next year.”