Thursday, 4 February 2010

British troops launch massive Afghanistan offensive

This is from today's (London) Times:

"British troops launch massive Afghanistan offensive

British forces in Helmand have launched a major air and ground operation close to the Taleban stronghold of Marja ahead of a major offensive expected to begin in Helmand in the coming days.

The operation, which involved the Grenadier Guards battlegroup, as well as a company each from the Royal Welsh and from the Coldstream Guards, focused on an area known to British troops as Five-Way Junction, in the southern part of Nad Ali district. Up to a thousand British troops were involved in the first manoeuvres.

It forms part of the 'shaping phase' of Operation Mastarak, the widely anticipated Nato spring offensive to clear Marja, the last area openly controlled by the Taleban in central Helmand. The operation, which means ‘Operation Together’, is expected to involve 10-20,000 British troops and US Marines as well as thousands of newly trained Afghan soldiers and police. The push, when fully underway, will be roughly double the size of last year's 'Panther's Claw' operation.

In an unusual departure from conventional military policy, the coming operation has been briefed to reporters in advance.

Speaking at the Ministry of Defence, the director of communications for operations in Afghanistan, General Gordon Messenger, said that the coming offensive would feature British forces in "a central role".

"Helmand is at the heart of General McChrystal's plan to demonstrate decisive success against the Taleban insurgency," said General Nick Parker, speaking from Kabul.

However, it is understood that US Marines will form the majority of the forces in the push.

The unusual openness from the military on the coming offensive reflects a shift in strategic thinking driven by the US commander, General Stanley McChrystal, from a strategy focused on targeting and killing the Taleban to one rooted in the protection of the population.

"The plan is to do it in the least aggressive way possible," General Messenger said. But he added: "Clearance operations by their very nature are high risk. We can't discount a fight and we can't discount casualties."

The main focus of the coming operation, according to British commanders, will be in the Hold Phase that follows the initial clearance.

"The clearance is not the critical phase it is the hold that follows, that 30-90 day period is where the strategic effect will be felt."

Six British soldiers have been killed in past two weeks, all of them in roadside bomb attacks."

I hope and pray that this operation and the expected offensive achieve something that is worthy of the sacrifices that have already been made.

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