Something interesting is happening in Afghanistan. According to the British papers, a few hours ago, British troops engaged in a huge offensive against a major Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan. British casualties, thank goodness, are limited, but it doesn’t sound as if things are going well for those Talibanis:
British troops have been involved in a major offensive in southern Afghanistan to recapture the Taliban’s most heavily defended and strategically important stronghold.
The operation on Saturday night, using thousands of soldiers and described as the biggest ever undertaken by British troops in Afghanistan, has so far left two Britons dead and several wounded.
Attack helicopters and combat jets have spent the past few days pummelling Taliban defensive positions surrounding Musa Qala in preparation for the final assault on the last remaining major town held by enemy insurgents in Helmand.
Early on Saturday, coalition forces, which include the British Army’s 52 Brigade, the Afghan National Army and America’s Task Force Fury, successfully surrounded the Taliban stronghold, where insurgent commanders claim up to 2,000 of their fighters are based.
The Taliban responded with a series of small-scale but bitter exchanges with the coalition forces which resulted in a number of British and Afghan army casualties. A member of the 2nd Bn Yorkshire Regiment died, said the Ministry of Defence, declining to name the soldier.
The latest phase of the operation began at dusk on Friday when hundreds of airborne troops from Task Force Fury launched an assault by helicopter on an area north of the town, a complex of high-walled compounds and narrow, dusty alleyways which armoured vehicles find difficult to penetrate.
Taliban commanders said that many of their 2,000 fighters – a figure the British dispute – were prepared to fight to the death while others would launch suicide bombing attacks against advancing coalition troops.
It is understood that the Taliban have spent months laying anti-personnel and anti-tank minefields, preparing bunkers and digging trenches in preparation for the attack.
The town has been under Taliban control since February after its commanders reneged on a peace deal whereby British and insurgent forces withdrew at the behest of local people in October 2006.
Hundreds of insurgents stormed the town in February, destroying the government building and ejecting the ruling council.
The battle for Musa Qala, which Nato forces have codenamed Operation Mar Kardad – meaning snake pit – began secretly on November 2, when British forces pushed north from the town of Sangin in an attempt to test Taliban defences in the area.
In the past week, the British have conducted probing attacks against the Taliban positions to gather intelligence on the opposing insurgent forces and the types of weapons with which they are equipped.
More British troops are being thrown into this action than any previous assault in Afghanistan: up to 3,000 of the total force of 7,000 in the country, The Sunday Telegraph understands, although commanders refused to be specific.
I mentioned at the top of this post that the Brit’s success is a problem, at least in the short term, for the Taliban, but I didn’t mention why. One word: drugs. It turns out that Musa Qala is one of the Taliban’s money and training centers:
In the next 28 to 48 hours, the last major town held by the Taliban in the province is likely to fall to coalition forces once again. Its loss will be a severe blow for the publicity-conscious Taliban commanders.
Musa Qala has become the hub of all Taliban activity in Helmand – where recruits are trained and equipped, and the centre of Helmand’s vast narcotics trade.
See this Guardian story, too, which has good coverage of both the battle and the region’s importance to the Taliban.