British engage in heavy fighting in Afghanistan

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.

A positive outcome for the law of unintended consequences

Before 9/11, when the Taliban were still a concern to people of all good will, I remember seeing news reports and hearing stories about the horrors of life for women under the Taliban. They were, quite literally, trapped in their homes, unable to go out even fully covered. A logical by-product was a high child mortality rate, both because mothers could not get them to medical care (not to mention the fact that the medical population had dropped when women were barred from practicing) and because mothers, imprisoned in small quarters with too many small children committed acts of child brutality that often resulted in the child’s death.

So it was without surprise that I read a Reuter’s report saying that, since the US invasion, child mortality in Afghanistan has dropped by 25 percent:

Child mortality has dropped by 25 percent in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001, meaning that 89,000 more children survive each year, the Afghan Health Ministry said on Sunday.

After nearly three decades of war, Afghanistan’s health indicators are among the worst in the world, but Afghan government and international efforts are beginning to bear fruit, with healthcare reaching 85 percent of the population.

The number of children dying before the age of five had dropped from an estimated 257 per 1,000 in 2001, to 191 in 2006, according to a survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University, quoted by the ministry.

“One of the Afghanistan’s biggest miseries has been the death of children at a young age due to the lack of health facilities and equipment,” President Hamid Karzai said on Sunday.

“I am thankful to all the health service organisations and the international community from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “This is the biggest happiness in Afghanistan — that we are now able to keep 89,000 children alive.”

The front we don’t hear about

The front we don’t hear about, of course, is Afghanistan.  Because it was for an acceptable cause and went well, the media has pretty much abandoned it.  It’s not bleeding enough to lead, and it does not fit in with the anti-Bush agenda.  I was curious about what it’s like to serve on a front that’s become a backwater, at least as far as the media is concerned, so a friend of mine who works with troops serving in Afghanistan asked them that question.  My friend came back with the following information:

One of the things that’s good about the lack of coverage is that the military is not subject to the erroneous or distorted reporting that trickles out of Iraq on a regular basis.  Of course, useful, true information also isn’t getting out, which leaves the public, not only untainted by falsehoods, but also unaware of important truths.  Overall, though, those to whom my friend spoke find it something of a relief not to have the press’s hostile eye focused on them relentlessly.  Apparently one enemy, in the battlefield, is more than enough.

Despite the media’s lack of interest in Iraq, my friend’s sources do not think there is much chance that the military, feeling itself unconstrained by the Fourth Estate, will go hog wild and recreate Abu Ghraib.  While there will always be bad people in an organization, and they will do bad things, the organization itself is pretty solid.  The military also has oversight procedures to prevent as much wartime misconduct as possible.

Lack of public interest carries with it the risk that it will be followed by a reduction in funds.  The military guys and gals, however, are not too worried about this.  Indeed, they appear to feel that funding right now is adequate, which my friend says (rightly) is probably a first in government operations.

As far as the troops go, they’re not feeling neglected.  On the one hand, they’re protected from Code Pink-esque anti-War hostility and, on they other hand, they’re still getting the love from those who matter, thanks to the internet and a very large family based support roup.  Morale seems high, with the external threats viewed as relatively low.

Relationships with the locals are also fairly stable.  Headquarters has a special group that connects senior Army leaders with local leaders, so as to keep relationships as smooth as possible.  Indeed, the military takes this responsibility as seriously in Afghanistan as it does in Iraq.

That sounds like a pretty good report from an important front in the War against Islamist hostilities against the West.

More on military solutions that work

Yesterday I blogged about the fact that, in Israel, the military solution is working against the Intifadah. Today, Roy Robison points out that the same is true in the war against Al Qaeda. (He also notes that there is no truth to the anti-War charge that the Bush Administration is so busy in Iraq that its ignored Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.) After describing the trap that is closing on Al Qaeda in the Tora Bora area, and the successful military tactics used to set and trigger this trap, Robison articulates the same conclusion the Israelis have discovered — against terrorists, who use the tools of war against us, it works to respond with bigger and better tools of war:

Despite liberals’ claims that al Qaeda terror cells are a bogey-man of the Bush Administration used to scare people to vote Republican, we can now see a direct case in which a terror cell was activated for a specific purpose: to save their jihadist buddies dying at Tora Bora.

The claim that fighting a terrorist is “giving them what they want” is one of the greatest fallacies of our time. When they attack us, it is for a specific purpose. When we do the exact opposite of what they want, they lose. They want us to disengage in the places they want to control, and then go home. Fighting them militarily, politically, economically, and diplomatically is the only way to defeat them. Giving in to them only makes them stronger.

On the playground, his conclusion would get a “Duh,” response because it’s obviously the way to treat aggressors.  In the real world of post-Colonial, post-Communist, multi-culti geopolitics, it’s no so obvious, and it’s great how clearly Robison has laid it out.

The New York Times spins away

This morning’s front page headline at the online Times was horrifying: “At Least 7 Afghan Children Killed in U.S. Airstrike.” The first two paragraphs describe carnage and what appears to be inaccurate intelligence:

The American-led coalition forces in Afghanistan killed seven children during an air strike on what they say was an Al Qaeda base in the east of the country, the military said in a statement today.

The air strike, which took place on Sunday night, hit a compound in the Zarghun Shah district of the border province of Paktika, which contained a mosque and a religious school and which the coalition forces said intelligence had shown was being used as a safe house for Al Qaeda fighters.

It’s only when you get to the third paragraph that you discover that the intelligence was good and that there were, in fact, militia leaders on site:

Several militants were killed in the strike, and two militants were also detained, the coalition said. The children’s deaths come amid mounting civilian casualties in Afghanistan and rising public anger in the country over them.

The next paragraph explains that a lot of civilians have been dying in recent raids, making the Afghanis really angry.  Only in the paragraph after that one does the Times quote an Army spokesman who makes a point about the same problem Israel routinely struggles with in dealing with Palestinians and Hezbollah — human shields:

“We are saddened by the innocent lives that were lost as a result of militants’ cowardice,” Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman, said in the statement. “We had surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building.”

Oh, and by the way, now that the Times is dealing with actual facts, not a political agenda, it turns out that this carefully targeted air strike followed an attack in which the Islamists terribly targeted civilians, killing 24 people and injuring scores more, with most of the dead being police on their way to work:

The attack followed a mammoth bombing by insurgents in Kabul on Sunday, which killed at least 24 people and was one of the deadliest insurgent attacks in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Of those killed, 22 were police academy instructors on their way to work.

The blast occurred at 8:15 and was powerful enough to shear off the roof and both sides of the bus and uproot many of the front seats.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, with Zabihullah Mujahid, who said he was a spokesman, saying in a phone interview that a suicide bomber had infiltrated the police and guilefully boarded the vehicle.

Kabul’s police chief, Esmatullah Daulatzai, said the precise tactics of the attack were unclear. “Our investigation shows that a suicide attacker jumped into the vehicle and blew himself up,” he said.

Whatever the method, it was spectacularly lethal, unleashing shards of glass and metal into a crowded area beside police headquarters, the governor’s office and the national archive. Two other vehicles were ripped apart by the explosion. The wounded included pedestrians waiting at an adjacent bus terminal.

Raz Muhammad, a policeman standing guard at headquarters, was among the first to reach the scene. “Those in the front seats, their bodies were very ripped apart,” he said. “Half of their heads were gone and there was brain matter all over. Very few of those inside survived. I could help those able to walk.”

There is confusion about the death toll. Police officials originally said 36 had died, but the chief later amended that number, adding that 52 people were wounded, including 38 who had to be hospitalized. It remains possible that more than 24 people perished. Bodies were taken to more than one hospital and then quickly released to families, perhaps sacrificing an accurate mortality count.

Indeed, the remainder of this article is about the horrors of the Taliban attack on civilians.

So now we know how a New York Times article is structured: Bury the major story in the last part of the article. Open with an attack on America. And slowly reveal that both the headline and lead paragraphs are misleading. That’s great journalism.

UPDATE: Incidentally, there are other ways of reporting the story about the air strike. In The Telegraph, on the news page that has the headlines and the little blurbs meant to attract readers’ attention, this is what you see (as of 11:14 P.S.T.):

Seven children killed in Nato airstrike
An airstrike on a religious school sheltering al-Qa’eda militants in Afghanistan killed seven children.

The Telegraph definitely gets the shock headline about the seven dead children (in the “if it bleeds, it leads” hierarchy, nothing leads better than bleeding children), but it quickly follows that attention-grabbing fact with the other newsworthy part of the story: militants were hiding amongst children. The headline readers and news skimmers who seldom dive into the whole story will understand the heart of the issue, which isn’t that children die, but that militants ensure that children die.

Go to the Telegraph story itself, and you’ll see that the focus continues to be on the issue of human shields which, as DQ points out in his comment to this post, is the real story:

A Nato airstrike on a religious school sheltering al-Qa’eda militants in Afghanistan killed seven children, coalition forces admitted today.

The children died along with several militants when coalition jets bombed a compound containing a madrassa and mosque in the Zarghun Shah District of Paktika Province in eastern Afghanistan yesterday.

Nato forces insisted they were unaware of the presence of children in the compound. Major Chris Belcher, a Nato spokesman, also accused the al-Qa’eda militants of not letting the children leave the compound and using them as human shields.

“We are saddened by the innocent lives that were lost as a result of militants’ cowardice,” Major Belcher said in a statement.

“This is another example of al-Qaida using the protective status of a mosque, as well as innocent civilians, to shield themselves.”

As the Times did, the Telegraph follows its discussion of the air strike with a description of the Taliban suicide bombing that occurred on the same day. This time, however, including the two stories in one place makes sense, because they both focus on a Taliban tactic: using the innocent as weapons of war. This stands in stark contrast with the Times reporting, which never tied the two stories together, and made the headline and first five paragraphs of its report look like nothing more than US/Nato bashing appended to an otherwise unrelated story about Taliban suicide bombers. Indeed, it did worse, because it seemed to imply parity: the US and Nato kill innocents, the Taliban kills innocents. It’s all the same in media land.

UPDATE II:  I reread my post just now and discovered that, aside from multiple typos and awkward phrases, I fell into one of my little writing:  I overuse the phrase “in fact” or the word “fact.”  I’ve cleaned up the post’s language (a lot), both to erase awkward phrases and verbal tics, but otherwise left it unchanged since I first wrote in such a rush this morning — and that’s a fact.

Sometimes you just need to rip the bandaid off

We all know that the only thing more painful than ripping a bandaid off is taking it off ever so slowly.

We all know that you treat cancers by swiftly removing the whole tumor (if possible), and not by gently nudging out one cancerous cell at a time.

We all know (don’t we?) that you fight wars to win.  To that, I’d add that there’s probably more humanity in getting a war over swiftly, even if that means bringing in a lot of upfront firepower against enemy troops, than dragging a war out forever in order to spare as many enemy troop lives as possible.  That is, I’d be willing to bet that, if you could play the two war scenarios out in alternative universes, the swift, but more brutal war, would end up with fewer casualties than the attentuated, but kinder war.

In any event, because I believe that principle, I was gratified to see this story:

NATO troops fought a six-hour battle with insurgents in southern Afghanistan Monday in a firefight that left 55 militants and one NATO soldier dead, the Western alliance said.

Twenty militants also were wounded in the fight in the Daychopan district of Zabul province, NATO said. The nationality of the dead NATO soldier was not released, though many of the Western troops in Zabul are American.

The battle came on the heels of another major fight between militants and NATO and Afghan troops Saturday in neighboring Uruzgan province in which 70 insurgents were killed after they attacked a military base north of Tarin Kowt.

Maj. Luke Knittig, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said troops in southern Afghanistan are moving into areas where insurgents are active in order to set security conditions to allow reconstruction and development.

“We’re not going to get fixated on a scoreboard tally of insurgents killed,” he said. “What’s more important is getting an accountable government in place.”

NATO and Afghan troops are pressing ahead with a new joint offensive called Operation Eagle, aimed at keeping pressure on the Taliban through the fall and winter and to pave the way for long-promised development after the harshest fighting since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban.

The 32,000-strong NATO-led force took command of security operations in all of Afghanistan last month and has been battling resurgent Taliban militants in the south and east.

There’s more, but the point seems to be that NATO has figured out that you don’t win a war against a determined enemy by dropping a desultory bomb or two on a mule.

And no, I do not feel sorry for the Talibanis who died.  This is war, for God sakes!  Their goal is to kill us; our goal is to kill them first.  They’ve put themselves in the line of fire.  If they’d go away, and leave the beleaguered Afghani people to enjoy the fruits of democracy (and, of course, stop trying to kill NATO troops), we’d leave them alone.  And just to keep the dead Talibani’s voluntary appearance on the battlefield in perspective, remember that the Taliban worked closely with Al Qaeda in 2001, not to kill soldiers in a declared war, but to massacre as many American civilians as possible.

The same situation applies in Afghanistan as it does in Israel.  As you know, the saying there is that, if the Palestinians stopped fighting, peace would come to that land; if the Israelis stopped fighting, they’d all be massacred.  War is never just about killing.  It’s always about the reasons behind the killing and the impetus or lack thereof to continue with the killing.

Is anyone on the Left listening to those on the battlefront?

Here’s the incredible, thoughtful response from Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s President, to a loaded question from AP operative Jennifer Loven, who is married to a Democratic macher and who wouldn’t know an unbiased story if it bit her in the face:

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

Even after hearing that one of the major conclusions of the national intelligence estimate in April was that the Iraq war has fueled terror growth around the world, why have you continued to say that the Iraq war has made this country safer?

And to President Karzai, if I might: What do you think of President Musharraf’s comments, that you need to get to know your own country better when you’re talking about where terror threats and the Taliban threat is coming from?

***

KARZAI: Ma’am, before I go to the remarks by my brother, President Musharraf, terrorism was hurting us way before Iraq or September 11. The president mentioned some examples of it.These extremist forces were killing people in Afghanistan and around for years, closing schools, burning mosques, killing children, uprooting vineyards with vine trees, grapes hanging on them, forcing populations to poverty and misery.

They came to America on September 11, but they were attacking you before September 11 in other parts of the world.

We are a witness in Afghanistan as to what they are and how they can hurt. You are a witness in New York.Do you forget people jumping off the 80th floor or 70th floor when the planes hit them? Can you imagine what it will be for a man or a woman to jump off that high?

Who did that? And where are they now? And how do we fight them, how do we get rid of them, other than going after them? Should we wait for them to come and kill us again?

That’s why we need more action around the world, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, to get them defeated. Extremism, their allies, terrorists and the likes of them.

You can see the video here, at Hot Air.