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Marines take Marja, operation has its own Wiki page

By Paul Wallis     Feb 13, 2010 in World
The assault on Marja in Helmand Province is unique in many ways. It’s the first of a new model approach to fighting the Taliban concentrating on the Obama administration’s “transfer” approach, handing over control to Afghan authorities.
The operation even has its own Wiki. (I don’t usually read the news on Wikipedia, but saw the entry on Google News.) Sure enough, a detailed, but not security sensitive, page full of information, in some cases better than the actual news, with references, explained the situation as at February 13, 2010. The information contains so many refs it looks like military media people put it together. It’s very informative.
This operation had a lot of pre-publicity, including "pre match" phone comments from Taliban commanders. That’s also unusual, but it seems that this uncharacteristic verbosity has other reasons for its existence. The population was obviously warned, the intention to minimize civilian casualties was publicized, and the new Afghan administration was announced as ready to roll in.
The idea is to not only take, but hold, strategic areas. Helmand has been a very hot place for years, and it has considerable prestige value for the Taliban. Its loss would be a convincing defeat for them, particularly with support from the local people. It would also cost them the opium crops in the area, a major cashflow source.
The US Marines and British forces including the Grenadier Guards took Marja after a scrappy series of firefights, taking some casualties. Mud also delayed operations for a while. Canadian forces are also said to be involved, according to Wikipedia, but are not mentioned in other reports. NATO forces ringed the area to catch fleeing Taliban fighters.
The attack included tanks with specialized bridging and mine plows similar to the Normandy type. (Some IEDs are plastic, constructed like mines, with pressure plates. They're hard to detect and time consuming to remove. It’s better to simply explode them with a mine plow or other method than to risk people trying to lift them.)
Casualties are reported to be light, although at least one 2 hour gun battle was involved. Fortified areas like bunkers were targeted by air support including drones. The Taliban opposition hasn’t committed itself to any countermoves, either because it can’t, or because it’s sidestepping the initial moves of the operation. They’re outnumbered, as well as outgunned, and this isn’t the sort of battle they can win in a direct engagement.
(Chinese commentary has been interesting. They cite a Taliban spokesperson as saying the NATO forces took heavy casualties, while their own were slight. Xinhua quotes a Taliban source as referring to a suicide attack not mentioned in other sources.)
Usually, they’d move back in when the troops left, dispose of the Afghan government representatives and set up shop again. This time, however, a “government in a box”, a ready to go administration, has come with the troops. Afghan involvement in the operation includes troops and police, and this is where the “transfer” policy comes in.
The intention is a secondary hearts and minds campaign, aimed at winning over the populace and getting the support of Taliban who are considered to be fighting for money rather than ideology. The policy has been created to work as an exit strategy, doing the job of defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but like Iraq, handing over to the local authorities.
Afghanistan’s political issues can’t be solved by foreigners. That’s been made as clear as it was in Iraq. The local issues within the country are regional, tribal, and complex. The north and south dichotomy, the pan-Pashtun politics, and the relationships between groups aren’t part of NATO’s brief.
Like Iraq, Afghanistan may revert to its internal alignments in the post-Taliban era. 30 years of war has had an impact, and the country will have to adjust to unaccustomed peace. Since the Soviet invasion, millions of Afghans have died or been maimed. Recovery will be a long, slow process. If the transfer policy works, it might start that process a bit sooner.
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