Operation Achilles: NATO's offensive in Helmand province
About 5,500 NATO and Afghan troops go on the pffensive in northern Helmand province
As mentioned previously, NATO is not waiting for the spring to react to the expected Taliban offensive. The NATO led International Security Assistance Force has announced Operation Achilles the first large scale operation in Helmand province this year. Achilles consists of approximately two brigades of troops from U.S., British, Afghan and possibly Dutch and Canadian units. "Our first manoeuvre elements reached their positions at approximately 05h00 this morning and at it's peek, Operation Achilles will eventually involve over 4500 NATO troops and close to 1000 ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] personnel," said Major-General Ton van Loon, Commander of Regional Command (South).
Operation Achilles does not encompass potential operations in Kandahar, Uruzgan or the eastern provinces bordering Pakistan's lawless tribal areas. This operation will focus on the violent northern districts of Helmand province, where the Taliban control the districts of Musa Qala and Washir, and claimed to have captured Nawzad. The British turned over Musa Qala to the Taliban in the fall of 2006 after agreeing to a Waziristan Accord like deal, giving the Taliban a sanctuary in the region.
The Sangin, Kajaki and Grishk districts have also been been the scene of heavy Taliban activity this winter. NATO forces have battled the Taliban in the nearby Kajaki and Sangin districts, and secured the Kajaki Dam after killing 15 Taliban during Operation Kryptonite in mid January.
NATO forces have been fighting a steady stream of small scale battles throughout the region over the winter. Pockets of Taliban fighters are killed at the rate of 10 to 50 per engagement, with few Coalition casualties. Coalition forces decimate Taliban formations whenever they mass in the open.
The Taliban have been conducting a terror campaign inside and outside its ranks in northern Helmand province since the Coalition killed Mullah Akhtar Usmani and two other senior Taliban leaders in northern Helmand province. Usmani was a member of the Taliban Shura Majlis, Mullah Omar's former deputy, the former foreign minister for the Taliban and the operational military commander in Uruzgan, Nimroz, Kandahar, Farah, Herat and Helmand provinces.
The Taliban have been massing forces in western and eastern Afghanistan over the winter to prepare for its yearly spring offensive. Last year's offensive resulted in over 3,000 Taliban killed and almost 1,000 civilian deaths. As western Pakistan continues to fall under Taliban control, combat operations will increase as NATO fights its holding action against a rested and revitalized Taliban.