So Much For The Cakewalk

Apparently, the Taliban are getting their second wind and, as usual, our rules of engagement are forcing us to fight with one hand tied behind our back.

Taliban allow US troops very little advancement in Marjah

Sniper teams attacked US Marines and Afghan troops across the Taliban haven of Marjah, as several gunbattles erupted on Monday, the third day of a major offensive to seize the extremists’ southern heartland.

Multiple firefights broke out in different neighbourhoods as US and Afghan forces worked to clear out pockets of Taliban and push slowly beyond parts of the town that they have gained control of. With gunfire coming from several directions all day long, troops managed to advance only 500 metres deeper as they fought off small squads of Taliban snipers.

“There’s still a good bit of the land still to be cleared,” said Capt Abraham Sipe, a Marine spokesman. “We’re moving at a very deliberative pace,” he added.

Troops: Strict war rules slow Afghan offensive

Some American and Afghan troops say they’re fighting the latest offensive in Afghanistan with a handicap — strict rules that routinely force them to hold their fire.

Although details of the new guidelines are classified to keep insurgents from reading them, U.S. troops say the Taliban are keenly aware of the restrictions.

“I understand the reason behind it, but it’s so hard to fight a war like this,” said Lance Cpl. Travis Anderson, 20, of Altoona, Iowa. “They’re using our rules of engagement against us,” he said, adding that his platoon had repeatedly seen men drop their guns into ditches and walk away to blend in with civilians.

If a man emerges from a Taliban hideout after shooting erupts, U.S. troops say they cannot fire at him if he is not seen carrying a weapon — or if they did not personally watch him drop one.

And, in the better lucky than good department . . .

U.S. Marine Walks Away From Shot to Helmet in Afghanistan

It is hard to know whether Monday was a very bad day or a very good day for Lance Cpl. Andrew Koenig.

On the one hand, he was shot in the head. On the other, the bullet bounced off him.

In one of those rare battlefield miracles, an insurgent sniper hit Lance Cpl. Koenig dead on in the front of his helmet, and he walked away from it with a smile on his face.

“I don’t think I could be any luckier than this,” Lance Cpl. Koenig said two hours after the shooting.

Lance Cpl. Koenig’s brush with death came during a day of intense fighting for the Marines of Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment.

The company had landed by helicopter in the predawn dark on Saturday, launching a major coalition offensive to take Marjah from the Taliban.

The Marines set up an outpost in a former drug lab and roadside-bomb factory and soon found themselves under near-constant attack.

Lance Cpl. Koenig, a lanky 21-year-old with jug-handle ears and a burr of sandy hair, is a designated marksman. His job is to hit the elusive Taliban fighters hiding in the tightly packed neighborhood near the base.

The insurgent sniper hit him first. The Casper, Wyo., native was kneeling on the roof of the one-story outpost, looking for targets.

He was reaching back to his left for his rifle when the sniper’s round slammed into his helmet.

The impact knocked him onto his back.

“I’m hit,” he yelled to his buddy, Lance Cpl. Scott Gabrian, a 21-year-old from St. Louis.

Lance Cpl. Gabrian belly-crawled along the rooftop to his friend’s side. He patted Lance Cpl. Koenig’s body, looking for wounds.

Then he noticed that the plate that usually secures night-vision goggles to the front of Lance Cpl. Koenig’s helmet was missing. In its place was a thumb-deep dent in the hard Kevlar shell.

Lance Cpl. Gabrian slid his hands under his friend’s helmet, looking for an entry wound. “You’re not bleeding,” he assured Lance Cpl. Koenig. “You’re going to be OK.”

Lance Cpl. Koenig climbed down the metal ladder and walked to the company aid station to see the Navy corpsman.

The only injury: A small, numb red welt on his forehead, just above his right eye.

See also:
U.S., Afghan Troops Battle Snipers in Marjah Offensive
Snipers harass US, Afghan troops moving in Marjah
Taliban step up attacks in besieged Afghan town
Marines, Afghan troops dodge sniper fire as battle to control Marjah rages
Hidden enemy delays advance in Marjah
Marines Into Marjah
Storming the Taliban stronghold
In Marjah offensive, Afghan forces take the lead
Nato General Praises Afghan ‘Partnership’
Operation Moshtarak Clearing Phase Continues
U.S. and Afghan Troops Expand Control in Marjah
U.S. Afghan Forces Push Deeper Into Marjah
‘Operation Moshtarak’ Reportedly Successful But With Setbacks
Troops complain rules of engagement give Taliban advantage
Afghanistan war: Marjah battle as tough as Fallujah, say US troops
IEDs a threat now and long into the future for fight against Taleban
Out of Marjah, safe in Pak?
‘Always a risk’ of Taliban return

At the time of this post, three days into the operation, the Coalition has still only taken two fatal casualties while killing dozens of Taliban.

/so it’s not like the battle for Marjah is turning into a disaster or the Taliban is even remotely close to winning

Minimal Interference From Confused And Disoriented Taliban

Coalition troops find ‘minimal interference’ in assault on Taliban

The major coalition assault against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan claimed the lives of two coalition troops, but military officials regard the hours-old push in war-ravaged Helmand province as very promising.

“So far, so good,” said British military spokesman Maj. Gen. Gordon Messenger, who told reporters in London that commanders are “very pleased” with the siege in the Marjah region, a Taliban-dominated agricultural area dotted with villages.

He said key objectives such as securing key bridges and roads were being reached with “minimal interference” by Taliban militants unable to put up a “coherent response.”

“The Taliban appear confused and disoriented,” Messenger said, but tempered his optimism with the reminder that the operation is not yet done.

A U.S. military official confirmed one U.S. Marine was killed in small arms fire, and a British soldier was killed in an explosion.

Taliban leaders flee as marines hit stronghold

American marines landed by helicopter in a pre-dawn assault on the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, seizing two central shopping bazaars and firing rockets at Taliban fighters who attacked from mud-walled compounds.

As the marines secured their first objective, a jumble of buildings at the centre of the farming town, thousands of soldiers moved in on foot.

Harrier jets called in by the marines fired heavy-calibre machineguns at the Taliban. Fighting continued for hours, according to an embedded correspondent. Cobra gunships unleashed Hellfire missiles into bunkers and tunnels.

By nightfall, marines appeared to be in control of the centre of Marjah, home to about 75,000 people. “The Americans are walking by on the street outside my house,” a bazaar resident said. “They’re carrying large bags and guns but they’re not fighting any more.” Asked what he thought of their presence, he said: “I have hope for the future.”

The offensive was aimed at overwhelming the insurgency’s last haven in Helmand province and restoring government control.

Aircraft bombed compounds in southern districts of the town. US marines and Afghan troops swarmed in, searching for foreign fighters after intelligence reports said they had holed up there.

In the north of the city, helicopters landed several hundred marines in narrow alleys amid farm compounds.

At least 20 insurgents were reported killed and 11 were captured. The invading troops confiscated caches of Kalashnikov automatic rifles, heavy machineguns and grenades.

The greatest threat came from the extensive network of mines and booby traps. Assault troops ran into a huge number of improvised explosive devices — homemade bombs — as they tried to cross a canal into the town’s northern entrance. Explosions ripped through the air as marines safely detonated bombs.

Marines used portable aluminium bridges to span the irrigation channels. The bridge over the main canal into Marjah from the north was elaborately rigged with explosives so they unfolded larger bridges from heavy-tracked vehicles to allow armoured troop carriers to cross.

Marine engineers, driving special mine-clearing vehicles called breachers, ploughed a path through fields on the town’s outskirts. To clear a minefield, they launched rockets and deployed cables of plastic explosives designed to ignite roadside bombs.

Civilians said the Afghan troops were searching homes, a concession to conservative tribal sensitivities. Searches by foreign troops, particularly of homes with women, have infuriated traditional Pashtun residents.

“The troops are going house to house in my street,” said Haji Abdul Mukadasa, a 48-year-old father of 13. He said the Afghan troops asked that all the women be put in one room, then searched the house while the “foreigners” waited outside.

He said he knew a young man who had been fighting with the Taliban but went home and took off his black turban when the offensive began. “They searched his house, and he said, ‘No, I am not Taliban, this is my wife, this is my father’.” Residents said most senior Taliban had fled the city.

See also:
Vertical envelopment – leapfrogging into Marjah
Surprise tactic in Afghanistan offensive befuddles Taliban
First stage of operation Moshtarak declared a success
Marines Drive Into Afghan Stronghold
British spearhead allied offensive in Afghanistan
British soldier dies as Operation Moshtarak blitzes enemy insurgents
Two Nato troops and British soldier killed in Operation Moshtarak
Operation Moshtarak Update
Marja offensive a test for NATO’s ability in uprooting Taliban
A Test for the Meaning of Victory in Afghanistan
IEDs: The Big Marjah Challenge
Bombs, booby-traps slow US advance in Afghan town
Operation Moshtarak: U.S. leads 15,000 troops against 1,000 Taliban
Operation Moshtarak

Marjah, now open under new management.

/looks like a rout

Game On

NATO launches major Afghanistan offensive

U.S.-led NATO troops launched a major offensive on Saturday against the Taliban’s last big stronghold in Afghanistan’s most violent province, a test of President Barack Obama’s troop surge strategy.

The assault, the first since the U.S. president ordered an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in December, is the start of a campaign to impose government control on rebel-held areas this year, before U.S. forces start to withdraw in 2011.

“The offensive in Marjah has begun. Our company is preparing to secure key terrain to facilitate stability and security for the people of Marjah,” Lt. Mark Greenlief of Bravo Company, First Battalion, Sixth Marines, told Reuters.

A dozen helicopters flew from south of Marjah in Helmand province and the first objective of U.S. Marines was to take the town center despite the risk of being blown up by bombs rigged by the Taliban.

“So far there has been no contact,” Gunnery Sergeant Brandon Dickinson, waiting in a muddy field, told Reuters.

The U.S. military said about 4,500 U.S. Marines, 1,500 Afghan troops and 300 U.S. soldiers were taking part in the offensive.

The operation, codenamed Mushtarak, or “together,” may have been labeled as such to highlight that NATO and Afghan forces were working closely to bring stability to Afghanistan, a country battered by decades of conflict.

See also:
U.S., allies attack Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan
U.S. Marines attack Taliban-held town
Coalition Begins Major Afghan Offensive
U.S. Starts Afghan Surge
Before day breaks, NATO troops descend on Taliban stronghold
US says Marines, Afghan troops launch main attack on Taliban-held town of Marjah
US, Afghan troops encircle Taliban stronghold
Civilians flee besieged Afghan town ahead of US-Afghan assault

So initial reports have it that the Taliban up and ran away with the civilians, probably wearing burkas.

/48 hour rule in effect

The Noose Is Tight, There’s Nowhere For The Marjah Taliban To Go But Down

US and Afghan troops ring Taliban stronghold

U.S. and Afghan forces ringed the Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Thursday, sealing off escape routes and setting the stage for what is being described as the biggest offensive of the nine-year war.

Taliban defenders repeatedly fired rockets and mortars at units poised in foxholes along the edge of the town, apparently trying to lure NATO forces into skirmishes before the big attack.

“They’re trying to draw us in,” said Capt. Joshua Winfrey, 30, of Tulsa, Okla., commander of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines.

Up to 1,000 militants are believed holed up in Marjah, a key Taliban logistics base and center of the lucrative opium poppy trade. But the biggest threats are likely to be the land mines and bombs hidden in the roads and fields of the farming community, 380 miles (610 kilometers) southwest of Kabul.

The precise date for the attack has been kept secret. U.S. officials have signaled for weeks they planned to seize Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people in Helmand province and the biggest community in southern Afghanistan under Taliban control.

NATO officials say the goal is to seize the town quickly and re-establish Afghan government authority, bringing public services in hopes of winning support of the townspeople once the Taliban are gone. Hundreds of Afghan soldiers were to join U.S. Marines in the attack to emphasize the Afghan role in the operation.

A Taliban spokesman dismissed the significance of Marjah, saying the NATO operation was “more propaganda than military necessity.”

Nevertheless, the spokesman, Mohammed Yusuf, said in a dialogue on the Taliban Web site that the insurgents would strike the attackers with explosives and hit-and-run tactics, according to a summary by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant Internet traffic.

In preparation for the offensive, a U.S.-Afghan force led by the U.S. Army’s 5th Stryker Brigade moved south from Lashkar Gah and linked up Thursday with Marines on the northern edge of Marjah, closing off a main Taliban escape route. Marines and Army soldiers fired colored smoke grenades to show each other that they were friendly forces.

U.S. and Afghan forces have now finished their deployment along the main road in and out of Marjah, leaving the Taliban no way out except across bleak, open desert — where they could easily be spotted.

See also:
Outreach Precedes U.S. Offensive
Marines roll out Assault Breacher Vehicles for Marjah Afghanistan offensive
Taliban vow guerrilla warfare against Afghan, NATO troops
Taleban ‘ready to talk’ as Nato prepares for huge assault
Region known as Marjah won’t be another Fallujah
Countdown To A Battle
Washington begins new Afghan offensive
Afghan campaign seeks to avoid Iraq mistakes
Special Forces Assassins Infiltrate Taliban Stronghold in Afghanistan
SITE Intelligence Group
In Your Face Taliban, The Coalition Is Coming To Take Marjah And There’s Not A Damn Thing You Can Do About It

More than a few appropriate songs come to mind, but I like this one (unfortunately there’s no original video):

/hey Taliban, mind if we sit down right in the middle of your primary opium area of operation and kill or capture about 1000 of your “martyrs”?

In Your Face Taliban, The Coalition Is Coming To Take Marjah And There’s Not A Damn Thing You Can Do About It

U.S. Announces Helmand Offensive

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.”

The risks could be substantial, however. By surrendering the element of surprise, the coalition has given its enemy time to dig entrenched fighting positions and tunnel networks. Perhaps worse for the attacking infantrymen, the insurgents have had time to booby-trap buildings and bury bombs along paths, roads and irrigated fields. Such hidden devices inflict the majority of U.S. and allied casualties.

Over the past few months, the new allied commander in southern Afghanistan, British Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, has revamped NATO’s coalition strategy in a region that is home to the Pashtun tribes and opium poppy fields that form the ethnic and financial foundations of the Taliban insurgency.

With the first of 30,000 new U.S. troops already on the ground in Afghanistan, Gen. Carter’s plan is to focus on two population centers—Kandahar city, in Kandahar province, and central Helmand province to the west. Combined, they are home to about two million of the estimated three million residents of southern Afghanistan.

Still, the military has taken an unusual step by broadcasting its imminent intention to assault a particular town, Marjah, and its environs. During World War II, civilians and servicemen were frequently reminded that “Loose lips sink ships” and “Enemy ears are listening.” For months leading up to the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, the Allies went to great lengths to disguise their target.

Similarly, the coalition in Afghanistan normally forbids—at the threat of expulsion—embedded reporters from writing about events before they take place. In this case, though, officials even released the name of the offensive, Operation Moshtarak, and said it would be a joint Afghan-coalition attack. Moshtarak means “together” in Dari, although the bulk of the population in southern Afghanistan speaks Pashto.

See also:
Allies publicly target Taliban
Coalition troops brace for biggest offensive since start of Afghan war
Marines gear up for push into Afghan Taliban enclave
Marines prepare to storm Taliban stronghold
US Marines, Afghan and NATO forces brace for battle in Afghan Taliban stronghold
US marines plan attack on Taleban stronghold
US, NATO, Afghan Troops Planning Major Southern Offensive
Troops Prepare and Publicize Offensive Against Taliban
Afghanistan: US and British to launch biggest offensive since 2001
U.S. Plans Defense of Kandahar

An interesting Coalition strategy indeed, will the Taliban flee in humiliation or flock to Marjah and die en masse? The overhead drones will surely be watching.

/either way, we’re taking the town