Taliban commander, 4 al Qaeda fighters killed in raid near Marja
Afghan and Coalition special operations forces killed a Taliban commander who works with foreign fighters and 10 Taliban and al Qaeda operatives during a raid in a region just outside the battle zone in Marja in Helmand province.
During a raid in the district of Washir, the combined force targeted and killed Mullah Sarajudin, the Taliban commander, along with four al Qaeda operatives and six Taliban fighters. Washir lies just north of the district of Nad Ali, where Afghan and Coalition forces have launched a massive operation to take control of the city of Marja and the surrounding areas.
"Troops late Monday night targeted a hideout out of Taliban rebels in Washir district, killing Mullah Sarajudin along with four Arab militants," a spokesman for Helmand province told Xinhuan News.
Sarajudin, who is also known as Mullah Hukmat, "was involved in organizing anti-government activities and arranged contact between Taliban and Arab fighters," Xinhuan News reported. He was a district-level Taliban commander in nearby Farah province during Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, according to Quqnoos.
The International Security Assistance Force press office confirmed the raid, and said more than 10 fighters were killed during a series of running battles as the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters attempted to leave the area.
US and British special Operations forces, backed by Afghan commandos, have been hunting the Taliban before and during the operation in Marja in order to degrade the Taliban's leadership network. The special operators killed more than 50 key cell leaders and commanders in the run up to the Marja operation, The Sun reported.
The district of Washir is one of three in Helmand that are currently under Taliban control, Mohammed Gulab Mangal, the Governor of Helmand province said in a press conference. The northern district of Bughrun and the southern district of Deshu are also considered to be outside government control.
The Taliban are expected to flee to Washir, and to neighboring Farah and Nimroz provinces, where Afghan and Coalition forces are thin, US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal at the outset of the operation in Marja. Just days prior to the operation, Afghan and Coalition forces established blocking positions to the north, south, and west of Marja in an attempt to fix and kill any Taliban fighters fleeing the fight.
The Taliban may also flee north to Bughrun and south to the Taliban-controlled border town of Baramcha in Desho. Once in Baramcha, the Taliban can easily cross into Pakistan's province of Baluchistan, a known Taliban haven.
Coalition and Afghan forces continue to press the Taliban in the city of Marja and in the outlying regions. ISAF said that the major objectives, including the establishment of more than a dozen patrol bases, the seizure of the town center, and the capture of the city's government offices, have been achieved.
Sporadic fighting continues as the Taliban are squeezed into smaller pockets. "We still have a large number of enemy fighters in southern Marja," Lieutenant Colonel Calvin Worth, the commander of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, told The Wall Street Journal. Worth believes the Taliban are moving north to engage Marine and Afghan forces in the town.
Yesterday, the military told The New York Times that an estimated 100 Taliban fighters have been killed and another 100 have fled the battlefield. The military downgraded the number of Taliban fighters in Marja from 1,000 to 400, signifying that half of the force has been killed or quit the fight.
Afghan and Coalition commanders hope to take Marja with minimal civilian casualties. The US military has come under criticism for a rocket attack that is reported to have killed 12 civilians in Marja on Sunday. Three more civilians were reported killed during fighting today.
Civilian casualties have been very low, considering the scale and scope of the operation, as well as the number of civilians in Marja. More than 15,000 Afghan and Coalition forces are involved in the Marja assault, while between 80,000 and 100,000 civilians are thought to be trapped in Marja. The Taliban have prevented civilians from escaping the fight and have used civilians as human shields.