Operation Medusa update, Taliban IEDs and safe havens
The Royal Canadian Regiment presses the fight against the Taliban holed up in the Panjwai district of Kandahar in southeastern Afghanistan. In the latest round of fighting, 21 Taliban have been killed and the Taliban is concentrating its forces in the Pashmul section of Panjwai. “The insurgents have chosen to stay in prepared positions, and from our point of view, they’re ‘fixed,'” said ISAF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Nick Grant-Thorold.
Up to 280 Taliban have been killed and 80 captured since Operation Medusa began last Saturday, and about 700 Taliban are believed to have holed up in Pashmul. According to The Globe and Mail’s Graeme Smith, the Canadians are digging in fixed combat positions in Panjwai. “We’re the first ones doing this. The Patricias [PPCLI] came through here before, but they never stayed,” said Captain Piers Pappin, a platoon commander in the Royal Canadian Regiment. The Canadians appear to be establishing permanent bases further west into Taliban country.
Activity in southeastern Afghanistan has been intense since the spring, and most of this has been driving by Coalition offensive actions as NATO ramps up the deployment in the region and expands into previously ignored regions. Tim Lynch, a retired Marine officer and founder of the security company Vigilant Strategic Services Afghanistan, recently returned from the Kandahar region and provides an update:
The situation down south has changed dramatically. There are ANP [police] and ANA [army] checkpoints in every town from Kandahar to Kabul. Remember the bad spot Sharjoy?  There is a fort there now and the whole area has cooled off considerably [note: this was an area considered a “red zone” while I was in country late last spring. Tim and I drove past burnt out police checkpoints in this region in June.] During our run down Wednesday and back up Friday [from Kabul to Kandahar and back] we saw between 10 to 15 military convoys heading south each day. They were mostly ANA in pickups with heavy weapons but we also saw large American and Romanian columns too. KAF [Kandahar Airfield] is a ghost town… The Canadians are doing most of the heavy lifting and they are doing a superb job.
The Taliban has been massing into battalion strength – I don’t know how without being detected and suspect they are being allowed to mass and then spanked with an air ground hammer. We liked just using the air – it looks like NATO holds off on the airpower until they get enough infantry in position and hits them with combined arms…
Back in June, I stated “The Taliban is unable to stand up against the Western militaries when they attempt to mass in large formations (100 to 300 fighters, equivalent to company or battalion sized units.)” This hold true to this day. But the Taliban are still engaging Coalition forces en masse despite frightful losses. There is a rich supply of recruits across the border in Pakistan to replace these losses.
The Taliban is attempting to upgrade its roadside and suicide bombing capacity to the standards of the Iraqi insurgency, and is having some success in this area. Today’s suicide bombing in Kabul “was the second Iraq style VBIED in a week. The first had no plates (no way it got through the city checkpoints with that much explosives weighing him down) – this one was a Kabul registered car. We think there is a bomb maker inside the city checkpoint belt,” reports Mr. Lynch. CENTCOM reports on three other suicide and IED attacks over the past week in Khost, Paktika and Logar provinces, and an ISAF patrol was hit in Farah. Mr. Lynch also witnessed a premature detonation in Kandahar: “We saw the knucklehead in Khandahar go up this morning for that matter- he hit a speed bump about a mile in front of us and detonated.”
The rise of Talibanistan in the Pakistani agencies of North and South Waziristan has threatened to make the Coalition’s job in south and eastern Afghanistan all the more difficult. The Taliban and al Qaeda now have the freedom to train, arm and infiltrate foot soldiers, IED and suicide cells into Afghanistan with little fear of reprisal from the Pakistani government. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted “Clearly [the Taliban] are crossing from the Pakistan side and causing bomb blasts in Afghanistan,” yet his solution was to cede government authority of the tribal agencies and allow for the formation of the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.