Tracking the Coalition's Afghan spring offensive
Following the break in weather and an alarming increase in anti-government activity, Afghan and Coalition forces launched a blazing series of offensives throughout most of the insurgency-plagued areas of Afghanistan. Around May 15, nearly a month after the Taliban announced the formal launch of their spring offensive dubbed Operation Hibrat (lesson), Coalition forces struck out in major operations of their own. The multitude of operations include remote fronts in the war such as northwestern Badghis province near the Afghan border with Turkmenistan, and southwestern Farah province and central Uruzgan province, both of which endured heavy fighting since October. Further operations have been carried out in southeastern Zabul province; Kapisa province, which is a mere 50-kilometers northeast of Kabul; and in the insurgent saturated provinces of Kandahar and Helmand.
Afghan violence soared in 2007, with well over 7,000 people being killed across the country, more than half of whom were insurgents. The toll includes more than 900 Afghan police killed in the line of duty. Coalition forces suffered as well, with 110 US troops killed, the highest level ever in Afghanistan. Britain lost 41 soldiers, Canada lost 30, and other nations lost a total of 40, according to an Associated Press count.
Last year also became the most dangerous year for non-governmental organizations operating in the country, with a staggering 106 crime and conflict-related security incidents occurring against NGO personnel. Overall, Afghan violence in 2007 rose 33 percent over incidents reported in 2006, an alarming increase that is likely to repeat itself this year. Already attacks are up nearly 40 percent compared to the first 13 weeks of last year, with the biggest increase occurring in the eastern provinces bordering the restive tribal states of Pakistan.
Below is a catalog of military offensives currently under way against insurgent and criminal elements throughout Afghanistan.
Uruzgan- Australian soldiers from the 4th Reconstruction Task Force moved into the Baluchi Pass region sometime before May 19*. The operation is designed to clear remaining Taliban forces from the area so patrol bases and other infrastructure for the Afghan National Army and police can be constructed.
Since October, the Baluchi Pass has seen heavy combat by Australian and Dutch NATO forces against a large number of hardened Taliban fighters. Previously, the Baluchi Pass was the area targeted in Operation Spin Ghar, launched last year by Afghan, Australian and Dutch troops to catch the Taliban off guard during the harsh winter months. France recently announced its decision to send 700 additional combat troops to Afghanistan. A portion of the 700 will be deployed to Uruzgan to help train and advise members of the Afghan National Army.
*Note: The Australian Defense Department would not confirm when the operation began or how many troops were involved, citing operational security requirements.
Zabul- Following months of insurgent attacks in southeastern Zabul province, British troops launched Operation Southern Edge on June 2 in the mountainous Mizan district. Muhammad Younus Akhunzada, the district administrator for the Mizan district, was assassinated by Taliban gunmen three days prior to the start of Operation Southern Edge.
"In Zabul there are areas where the Taliban think that they can operate unmolested by us," Lieutenant Colonel Huw Williams, the commanding officer of 3 Para, told the Telegraph. "We are here to discredit them and to enhance the image of the Afghan government in the eyes of the people."The operation's goal is to prevent the Mizan district from being used as a Taliban sanctuary.
Farah- Farah province, located in the remote area of southwestern Afghanistan, has been plagued by insurgent activity over the last two years. This past winter, Taliban activity increased substantially, forcing the small contingent of Coalition and Afghan forces stationed there to make a stand against the Taliban infestation.
Operation Shamshir Bazaar (Bazaar of Swords) was launched in the Bala Baluk district on May 16 and later spilled over into the Bakwa district. Taliban support and supply bases are located in Bala Baluk, and the current operation has killed dozens of suspected Taliban insurgents, including several tactical level commanders. Mullah Abdul Salaam, Mullah Sultan and Mullah Bashir have died so far,according to Farah deputy police chief Colonel Muhammad Nabbi Popal. Two Coalition soldiers have been killed during the operation and scores of local police personnel also have been killed or wounded.
Badghis- The remote, northwestern province of Badghis has borne the brunt of many low-scale Taliban attacks over the last year, especially in the districts of Murghab and Ghurmach. Following the success of Operation Shaheen Sahra-1 and 2 in Badghis and Faryab last year, Afghan and NATO forces promised residents that joint security operations would continue.
In mid-May, around 250 soldiers from Norway's Telemark Battalion engaged Taliban insurgents in their northwestern stronghold in Badghis province. In one engagement, at least 13 Taliban fighters were killed following a failed assault on the Norwegians' camp site. Two Badghis area Taliban commanders, Mullah Bismillah and Mullah Amanullah, were later arrested by Afghan security personnel in separate incidents.
Security operations continued into late May and early June. On June 2, Norwegian troops backed up an Afghan police operation against Taliban insurgents in the Murghab district. Although NATO officials could confirm only 10 Taliban fighters killed in the battle, provincial authorities cited numbers of 46 and 55 fighters killed and more than 30 wounded. The battle broke out after 150 Taliban fighters attempted to overrun a police checkpoint near the border with Turkmenistan.
Kapisa-Prior to the insurgent attack on the Mujahidin Victory parade in Kabul on April 27, US and Afghan forces launched Operation Mouje Sealam in Kapisa province to thwart the expansion of Taliban activity centered in the volatile Tag Ab district. "Afghan National Security Forces and International Security Assistance Forces are working hard to uproot the localized insurgency," a US military spokesman told The Long War Journal shortly after the operation was launched. "Kapisa is being used as a staging area for attacks into the capital including suicide attacks. Various Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami commanders, in and outside the Valley, realize the importance of maintaining support in this area to keep this facilitation hub open." A large majority of the incoming contingent of 700 additional French troops will be assigned to Kapisa province, specifically to the Tag Ab district.
Kandahar- The Zhari district of western Kandahar, scene of some of the fiercest battles fought by NATO forces in Afghanistan, endured a weeklong thrust by Canadian forces called Operation Rawa Tander (Rolling Thunder). Insurgent activity in Zhari and the area of Pushmul have inflicted a large percent of Canadian casualties, with the roadside bomb being the insurgent tactic of choice. The weeklong mission consisted of three straight days of combat while Canadian and Afghan troops attempted to disrupt Taliban activity and their bomb-making capability.
Katherine O'Neill, the only journalist embedded with Canadian forces during the operation, described it as the "heaviest fighting [Canadian] troops have been involved in so far this year." Although NATO troops completed the mission without casualties, insurgents launched a series of deadly attacks following the thrust. A Canadian platoon commander was killed during a gunfight with Taliban fighters in the Panjwayi district on June 3, and four Canadians suffered injuries in separate incidents on June 3 during a security sweep in the Zhari district.
Helmand- The influx of 3,000 US Marines, split between Kandahar and Helmand province, has forced the Taliban to deal with a new front in the southern deserts of Afghanistan. The Marines launched Operation Azada Wosa (Stay Free) on April 29 in Helmand's southern desert district of Garmsir. The British have labeled this region "Taliban gateway into Helmand" because of its known infiltration routes and close proximity to the Pakistani border. Many of the Taliban forces crossing the border are foreign fighters, mainly Pakistani. After they experience combat in the southern desert areas, Taliban commanders call them up to "active duty" elsewhere in Helmand.
A remote British outpost, FOB Dwyer, is now the tip of the spear for Marine operations in southern Helmand. Since the operation began, Marines backed by a small number of British troops "encountered disorganized resistance in more than 100 engagements with insurgents," according to US military officials. Fierce battles, air strikes, artillery barrages, and discoveries of tunnels and weapons caches have been regularly reported since early May. Until the Marines' scheduled departure in October, the operation is expected to continue, with Marines and Afghan forces trying to hold the ground they have rested back from Taliban hands.