Fri Jul 17th, 2009 at 06:28:03 AM EST
Two large NATO coalition military offensives are underway in Afghanistan. Here is one example of what NATO troops face. The Guardian has what the newspaper is calling the First ever image of IED roadside explosion in Afghanistan.
The photo by Manpreet Romana shows a U.S. Marine running for safety moments after an IED blast. The roadside bomb explosion was photographed in the Garmsir district of Helmand province.
"The huge cloud of smoke and dirt in the picture, taken yesterday in the southern Helmand province, obscures the bodies of two other U.S. marines killed by the improvised explosive device (IED)."
From the diaries by afew
Here's some background to what's currently going on. The Marines are in Afghanistan as part of U.S. President Barack Obama's 21,000 strong "planned troop increase". This is not an escalation or a surge. "A surge suggests that it's temporary," said Capt. Scot Keith, an American.
Since the beginning of July, the U.S. has been conducting Operation Khanjar (Stike of the Sword). The operation begain with 4,000 U.S. Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade deployed in Helmand, a large opium-growing province in southern Afghanistan. Now, according to Reuters, some 10,000 Marines are now part of the military task force.
The Americans are joined by roughly 650 Afghan troops. U.S. military commanders believe there needs to be more Afghan troops involved in the operation.
"I'm not going to sugarcoat it. The fact of the matter is we don't have enough Afghan forces, and I'd like more," said Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, the U.S. Marines commander in southern Afghanistan, earlier this month. "The bottom line answer is, I'd like more, I need more," he said.
Coinciding with Operation Khanjar, Operation "Pather's Claw" is underway in north Afghanistan. It is a similar-sized British-led operation of NATO troops. Less than a week ago, the number of British troops killed in Afghanistan surpassed those killed in Iraq. The casualty rate now in Afghanistan is now as high as any point since the 2001 invasion.
Today, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British army, said success in Helmand can only be achieved with more coalition troops. "I don't mind whether the feet in those boots are British, American or Afghan, but we need more to have the persistent effect to give the people [of Helmand] confidence in us," he said.
Since the begining of the military operations, the Marines have pushed deeply into Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. After now nearly two weeks of fighting a patterns seemed to emerge. The Marines would advance and the Taliban, after engaging in "light skirmishes" would then retreat.
The CS Monitor observed after one week of fighting, as the U.S. troops move into the south, the Taliban strike elsewhere. The troops meet only light resistance, "but Afghan insurgents hit back in other parts of the country." The Taliban seems to be fiercely fighting the British.
Meanwhile the war plan of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama's chosen commander in Afghanistan, isn't going as expected. Instead, McChrystal warns the operation in southern Afghanistan will not end quickly. The "Marines had faced less resistance than expected..., but that British troops just to the north were running into fiercer fighting than anticipated."
McChrystal, also said that he was surprised by the resilience of pockets of Pashtun militants in western and northern Afghanistan, areas that he expected to be relatively calm but that now needed more troops and stronger local governance...
McChrystal said Taliban fighters were starting to fight back, probing with small-scale attacks and improvised explosives.
"They're coming back and nipping at the edges," General McChrystal said... "They're waiting to see what happens."
While McChrystal seems to be somewhat surprised by the Taliban's tactics. When the U.S. operation began, a spokesman for the Taliban said they planned to strike where the coalition forces were at their weakest.
The Taliban is countering with Operation Foladi Jal (Pashtu for "iron net"). "We will not engage them in front battles. We would rather hit them by mines and guerrilla attacks," said Yousuf Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman.
Which brings me back to Manpreet Romana's photograph above. A key part of the Taliban's defensive is improvised bomb explosions and they are taking a toll on U.S. and other coalition forces. Buried bombs put risk in every step, reports the NY Times. While the IEDs "are less powerful or complex than those used in Iraq, they are becoming more common and more sophisticated with each week, American military officers say."
This year, bomb attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan have spiked to an all-time high, with 465 in May alone, more than double the number in the same month two years before. At least 46 American troops have been killed by I.E.D.'s this year, putting 2009 on track to set a record in the eight-year war...
With few paved roads, Afghanistan is even more fertile territory for I.E.D.'s. than Iraq, where hard pavement often forced insurgents to leave bombs in the open. Not so in Afghanistan, where it is relatively easy to bury a device in a dirt road and cover the tracks.
Even when I.E.D.'s do not wound or kill troops, the threat restricts and complicates the movements of coalition forces.
The U.S. and coalition operations are hampered by a limited number of helicopters. So most troop maneuvers are done in "mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles known as MRAPs, which are lumbering and hard to maneuver."
Mobility is a problem for the troops. British MPs are publishing a report saying a British helicopter shortage puts troops at risk in Afghanistan and U.S. Marines are now traing to use pack donkeys and mules in Afghanistan.
"Humvees and even helicopters are of limited use in Afghanistan's mountains. There are few roads and the air is thin. But a 1,000-pound mule or 400-pound donkey can easily carry a load one-third its weight -- or more, if necessary."
But despite the precautions and armor, roadside explosions still are deadly. Military officials are warning Americans to be ready for "rising casualties" from Afghanistan. "At the current rate, 2009 would be the deadliest for the U.S. in more than seven years of fighting, surpassing the number killed last year".
According to icasualties.org, a total of 201 troops, 109 of them from the U.S., have died in Afghanistan so far this year. Reuters reports July equals deadliest month of Afghan war. "In the two weeks since U.S. and British troops launched massive assaults, Western troops have died at an average rate of three a day, nearing the tempo of the bloodiest days in Iraq and almost 20 times the rate in Afghanistan from 2001-04."
Afghans are also being killed in bomb attacks. Less than a week ago, 16 children were among the 24 people killed in a huge truck bomb explosion in town in Logar Province. "The truck had overturned several hours before and the children, ages 8 to 12, had stopped on their way to school to watch police officers investigate the crash when the truck exploded".
The military will advise Obama more troops are neeed. it seems only a matter to when. According to an interview he gave to McClatchy Newspapers, McChrystal says he won't pull punches on Afghan proposals. "He won't be deterred by administration statements that he cannot have more U.S. troops."
"If I change my calculus based on what I think economic or political things are, then they are not benefiting from an absolutely untainted recommendation from me," McChrystal said...
"The public can expect and should expect from me to give my best military advice on what I think is required. And I will do that. If I think it requires less forces, I'll say that. If it requires more forces, I'll say that. That's what I think my responsibility is."
With American commanders calling for more Afghan troops already after two weeks of fighting and the head of the British army saying more "boots on the ground" are needed in Afghanistan, I think it is likely McChrystal will recommend to the American president that more troops are needed for the war.
As Helen Thomas writes, Afghanistan now is Obama's war. Thomas sees shades of President Lyndon B. Johnson in Obama's "planned troop increase". She wonders, "Do we ever learn?" And honestly, so do I.
Adapted from an essay at Docudharma/Daily Kos.