Planned Offensive in Southern Afghanistan

NATO Ministers, Commanders Advertise Planned Offensive in Southern Afghanistan - Craig Whitlock, Washington Post.

For the upcoming Battle of Marja, the element of surprise has already gone by the wayside. NATO ministers and commanders, gathering Thursday and Friday in Istanbul, could barely contain themselves about a major military offensive set to launch 2,000 miles away in southern Afghanistan. Ignoring the usual dictums about keeping battle preparations secret, officials were keen to talk about what they touted as their biggest joint operation since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

"In the coming days, you will see a demonstration of our capability in a series of operations, led by the Afghans and supported by NATO, in southern Helmand," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen volunteered to reporters. Although Rasmussen said he could not go into details "for security reasons," other NATO officials said an allied force, led by U.S. Marines, was preparing for an assault on the town of Marja, a Taliban stronghold in Helmand province. Senior military officials began touting the offensive, the first operation since a U.S. troop increase in Afghanistan, even before President Obama announced in early December that he would be sending more forces to the country...

More at The Washington Post.

U.S. Announces Helmand Offensive - Michael M. Phillips, Wall Street Journal.

In a rare break from traditional military secrecy, the U.S. and its allies are announcing the precise target of their first big offensive of the Afghanistan surge in an apparent bid to intimidate the Taliban. Coalition officers have been hinting aloud for months that they plan to send an overwhelming Afghan, British and U.S. force to clear insurgents from the town of Marjah and surrounding areas in Helmand province, and this week the allies took the unusual step of issuing a press release saying the attack was "due to commence." Senior Afghan officials went so far as to hold a news conference Tuesday to discuss the offensive, although the allies have been careful not to publicize the specific date or details of the attack.

"If we went in there one night and all the insurgents were gone and we didn't have to fire a shot, that would be a success," a coalition spokesman, Col. Wayne Shanks, said before the announcement. "I don't think there has been a mistake in letting people know we're planning on coming in." ...

More at The Wall Street Journal.

Why are U.S., Allies Telling Taliban About Coming Offensive? - Jonathan S. Landay and Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers at Stars and Stripes.

Thousands of U.S., British and Afghan troops are poised to launch the biggest offensive of the war in Afghanistan in a test of the Obama administration's new counterinsurgency strategy. Military operations usually are intended to catch the enemy off guard, but for weeks U.S. and allied officials have been telling reporters about their forthcoming assault on Marjah, a Taliban-held town of 80,000 and drug-trafficking hub in southern poppy-growing Helmand province. Senior NATO commanders and top Afghan officials have openly discussed the approximate time of Operation Moshtarak - the Dari language word for "together" - the size of the force and their objectives in news conferences, interviews and news releases that have been disseminated around the world and posted on government Web sites. Leaflets have been airdropped on the town.

Though the exact time of the kickoff hasn't been disclosed, a "news article" posted Thursday on the British Ministry of Defense's site announced that operations involving "elements of the Royal Welsh, Grenadier Guards and Scots Guards" and Afghan forces "in preparation" for the Marjah attack had been under way for 36 hours. The unusual approach, according to U.S. and British commanders, is intended to persuade Marjah's civilian population to leave or turn against the Taliban, while pressuring the estimated 2,000 insurgents to flee the town or switch sides...

More at Stars and Stripes.

Rage, Boredom, Misplaced Offensives - Joshua Foust, Registan.

The old saying that war is boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror is very much relevant to the fight in Helmand. Over the summer, when the Marines were advertising their latest "surge" into Helmand (at least the third Marine Surge and at least the fifth misfocused ISAF surge into the province), many expressed surprise at the Taliban's propensity to "melt away" from a fight - that, rather than facing certain death with the Marines, they'll just slink away to cause trouble elsewhere.

This isn't a new thing - the Taliban have been doing it since, oh, let's go with 2001 - but the Marine Corps nevertheless seemed surprised by it. And it is indeed a bizarre, frustrating thing to deal with an enemy that generally won't fight "fairly," choosing instead to rely on roadside bombs and mortars (the unfairness of such an idea - as if the American reliance on overwhelming air power was any less terrifying to the Taliban - is probably best left for another post). It would be understandable, even easy to find the Marines are running out of patience trying to fight a counterinsurgency while their opponents are not...

More at Registan.

Announcing the Marja Offensive - Herschel Smith, The Captain's Journal.

Let's not overdo the surprise and offer too many superlatives at announcing the Marja offensive. A similar strategy was taken for Operations al Fajr and Alljah, both in Fallujah. The U.S. Marines have a rich history of using intimidation as one of the many tools in their bag. My problem isn't with announcing the offensive. It comes at a more basic level than that...

I have also spoken strongly against targeting the poppies. I cannot speak directly to whether the Marines are targeting poppy in Helmand at the moment, but my objections to the handling of the Marja offensive are much more basic and foundational. If there is no one in charge who can explain why we are in Helmand, let me do it (sigh) once again...

More at The Captain's Journal.

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Comments

"Every scenario I can think of involves either a taliban defeat or an endless civil war..."

I concur. I fear the higher probability lies with the latter. Sanctuary and all it implies remains, IMV, the central issue. Without such I don't believe this insurgency gains or holds any traction.

Thanks.

S2, I guess i was arguing with imaginary people in my head, not so much with you. I do think the taliban are over-rated by a lot of people, maybe not by you..
Of course its an Afghan fight, but all Afghan fights in the last 200 years have had foreign supporters on either side. There is no scenario in which the afghans will settle this among themselves with no one else playing a supporting role. I just think the taliban and their sponsors are not as all powerful as some people in the media seem to think. Every scenario I can think of involves either a taliban defeat or an endless civil war, not a total taliban victory. Of course, I could be wrong...

Omar,

I don't recall suggesting that the taliban are "magical". You suggest "safer bet". Not I.

As to "...winning and holding allegiance...", that doesn't seem a taliban concern as much as persevering through our presence and having sufficient weapons afterward to assert their will once we're gone.

This remains an afghan fight in the long run and if the GoA isn't ready to decisively fill the vacuum then the taliban are perfectly capable of doing so. Decisively.

Clearing and holding is a massive and very long-term project when factoring in Afghan abilities to play their role.

Thanks.

S2, the taliban are not magical. Their success or failure depends on winning and holding the allegiance of the local population and that allegiance depends first and foremost on the population's pragmatic and sensible estimate of "who is likely to win". Certainly, with a safe haven in Pakistan and a corrupt and ineffective regime in Kabul, the taliban would seem to be the safer bet...but that is NOT set in stone. If Pakistan is not a safe haven anymore and Kabul improves (and this improvement doesnt have to reach stratospheric levels...this is a very poor country ravaged by civil war, expectations are rather low) and the infidels show that they know what they are doing, things can turn around. I think there is too much of this "Omar the magic talib" business going around....

Marjeh isn't just some random area that is going to be cleared. The enemy build up there is largely the result of a 'water-balloon' effect from the successful operations along the Central Helmand River Valley where the Marines' have gone and stayed. This has forced the enemy to Marjeh - its last strong point in Central Helmand (which is of strategic value to the Taliban due to poppy revenue associated with the area).

Yes, S2 is probably right that majority of the enemy won't stand and fight. However, the enemy's loss of Marjeh will have a significant psychological impact for the populace (and the enemy). The Taliban have had the run of Helmand since the Brits arrival in 2005 and the Taliban's inability to defend Marjeh (as well as the rest of CHRV) will clearly broadcast to the masses that the Taliban are no longer in control of Helmand. This will create the necessary space for district level governance to deliver to the populace...which is another problem altogether...

Cross posted in part from the Small Wars Council discussion board:

I think the principal reason for announcing the operation is, as was done in Fallujah, to allow the civilians in the town to leave. (LINK) I imagine that several other towns will follow at about quarterly interval ending with Kandahar at the end of next year...

Some of the lesser committed bad guys will also leave and will then return -- but those will not be the hard over zealots so that's no big thing. It is not an ideal strategy but lacking troop numbers (which the west doesn't and won't have) it's a reasonable alternative.

That Western troop strength problem is not going away and thus, hopefully, future politicians will make more informed decisions and avoid such operations which are a residual not of Cold War thinking as many pundits amd nominal defense thinkers like to say but really of WWI / WW II thinking -- the western military personnel systems are not the only thing stuck in a time warp. So too is training. Obviously, 'strategic' (mass armies and balance of power politics) and even so-called 'operational' thought (a flawed concept unnecessarily adopted from two Armies which are no more...).

"The success of the planned campaign depends on how quickly troops and civilian development workers can get public services up and running once the Taliban have been driven away, the top U.S. and NATO commander said Sunday." http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,585035,00.html

Can anyone tell me if the coordination between "troops and civilian development workers" is up to the task? I had a few glimpses of "cooperation" between troops and civilian development workers in Iraq in 2008. I certainly would not want the success of my campaign to be dependent on what I saw.

Yeah its deja vu all over again, but who's deja vu? Being that its the USMC leading & planning the assault & manning the post-assault.

Then deja vu is... Fallujah '04.

The ones who will melt away will, the ones who stand will die.

Either way the Marines will leave the same type of security force they left behind in Anbar.

If you know anything about the Marine trained Sunni Brigades of the 7th IA Division you'll know that they are the most feared & requested units in Iraq.

They have crushed insurgent flare ups all over Iraq including the last 1 in Basra that gave the Brits so much trouble.

Not too mention IP units like the 'Black Scorpions' of the Al Hilla SWAT.

If given enough time the USMC trained ANA & ANP Units will drive the Taliban fr/Helmand & hold like the USMC trained IP & IA did in Anbar.

The problem will be will progress take hold in the rest of the country.

The taliban options seem clear-bury weapons, bury IEDs, melt back into the local population, placidly await the onslaught that falls upon nothing, allow the Americans to enrich everybody (including them), await our departure and kick the snot out of the ANA/ANP that remain behind.

Maybe the ANA/ANP win. Uh huh. Maybe. Absolutely, we'd win though. So, if taliban, who do you take your chances of fighting? Shall we be there forever? Of course not. So at some point there'll be a fight with the taliban. The only question is whom shall be their opponent.

BTW, they'll call an ANA/taliban fracas after we've left CIVIL WAR. Deja Vu all over again...

Thanks.