Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan: On Saturday night, Charlie Company from the 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry moved from Forward Operating Base Martello to the “430 compound”, a small, austere ANP base infested with large ants and adorned with a well in the center. The Canadian soldiers took advantage of the rare running water to wash up from the dust bowl at FOB Martello. The Afghan National Police guarded the soldiers from Charlie Company as they slept, packed into the mud-walled compound.
Charlie Company rolled from the 430 compound in the late morning, and headed west to the Helmand desert regions of Registan, which translates to “sandy place”. The company, which is augmented by Afghan National Army and their Embedded Training Team from the US Army, broke for lunch in the scorching desert sun in the barren, sand and rock strewn moonscape of the Registan.
The battle group receive their orders: the Zari and Panjwai regions south of Highway 1 are to be swept of large concentrations of Taliban believed to be in the area. Charlie Company and the Afghan National Army are the hammer, and Bravo Company and the Afghan National Police are the anvil, setting up blocking positions in an effort to seal the Taliban’s escape. Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah and two other senior leaders are thought to be in the area. Intelligence indicated the Taliban are armed with small arms, RPGs and mortars and there is the possibility of more sophisticated weaponry is in their possession.
The Zari and Panjwai districts have been a focal point for the Taliban. The small farming communities in the green belt between Highway 1 and the Arghandab river provides the Taliban with cover to infiltrate the region. The support for the Taliban in the region is mixed, with some tribes supplying the Taliban, and others looking to the government for protection. Highway 1 is the main artery to Lashkar Gah in Helmand province, and the Taliban like to use this route. The Afghan National Police have been establishing checkpoints along the road to monitor traffic. The Taliban is also said to transverse the Registan desert to the south in Pakistan, where supply and support bases in Balochistan are at their disposal.
This will be the fourth operation in the region since the spring, and more may be necessary until a permanent presence is established in the region to ensure the security situation. Several days ago Canadian soldiers from Bravo Company of 1 PPCLI established Patrol Base Wilson (named after a Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan earlier this year) along Highway 1 in the Zari police and administrative district center. After six months of a presence in Kandahar, the Canadians are pushing outward and beginning to establish a permanent presence in the more volatile regions of Kandahar.
On Sunday, the battle group broke from lunch and proceeded east to begin the operation. The Canadian effort is part of an overarching operation called Mountain Thrust, which is designed to decrease the Taliban’s influence and military power throughout southeastern Afghanistan. Military operations are followed with an increased security presence and aid programs designed to win back local support. Mountain Thrust has been in action for several weeks now in Zabul, Helmand Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces. Over the past few days, Mullah Omar’s brother in law, Mullah Amanullah, was killed along with fourteen other Taliban fighters in Uruzgan. Ten Taiban were killed in the Sangin district of Helmand province
The soldiers from Charlie spent five long hours sweeping east through the desert, encountering small farming villages in the inhospitable desert. No contact was made, and by Sunday night, Charlie Company established a leder in the desert and hunkered down for the evening, sleeping under the stars and a full moon.
Charlie Company and the ANA soldiers woke prior to sunrise Monday morning, and proceeded with the thrust into the Panjwai and Zari districts. Canadian and ANA forces made their first contact in the town of Pashtool. Two Canadian soldiers were wounded by small arms fire during the initial contact, and one remains in serious condition. On Tuesday, the intelligence became more focused, and the village of Zangabad was in the Canadian Army’s sights. No contact was made, and the battle group proceeded to the town of Mushan.
Over the course of two days of fighting, twelve Taliban were confirmed killed and eight wounded. Two suspected Taliban were take prisoner, one of whom had a camera and an plenty of Pakistani cash in his possession. The military officers and enlisted I spoke to believe that all roads to the Taliban eventually lead back to Pakistan.
An audio recording of a press conference with Colonel Chris Vernon on Operation Mountain Thrust is also available.
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