NATO doesn’t wait for the Taliban’s spring offensive as the Taliban attempts to seize Helmand province, launches Operation Kryptonite
NATO forces and the Taliban aren’t waiting for the snows to melt in the mountain passes, and are battling it out in the southern province of Helmand. The Taliban openly assaulted the town of Musa Qala in late January, a region the British ceded over to the Taliban in November, and is said to be reinforcing battle positions by “digging trenches and laying mines”. Over 300 Taliban fighters are estimated to be in Musa Qala.
The Taliban have reportedly captured the neighboring Washir district, capturing the police chief and 30 police officers. 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. The Taliban used children as human shields while withdrawing from Kajaki.
Since the Taliban openly took the district of Musa Qala, NATO has conducted a series of air strikes against Taliban leadership targets. Yesterday, Coalition forces killed Mullah Manan in an airstrike, along with 8 Taliban. Mullah Manan was believed to be leading the fight in Musa Qala. He had a long history with the Taliban, and served as a governor of Samangan province prior to the Taliban’s ouster from power in 2001. In 2004, the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence agency (or ISI) ‘bought’ Mullah Manan after he was imprisoned for 6 months, where he was then promoted as a “good Taliban.” Manan maintained a large estate in Chaman in the Balochistan province of Pakistan, just across the border from Kandahar.
Manan is but one seven senior to mid-level Taliban commanders killed in Helmand province since December, including Mullah Akhtar Usmani, “the highest ranking Taliban official killed since the fall of 2001,” notes Matt DuPee of Afgha.com.
“Despite the initial gains of killing local and regional Taliban commanders, it has proven in the past that the Taliban organization quickly replaces dead commanders with fresh leaders,” reports Mr. DuPee. “More often than not, these commanders are young and not as seasoned as the ex-mujahideen commanders who fought a vicious ten year war against the Soviet Union in the 1980’s. Most of the fresh commanders are in between 23 and 35 years of age, lived as refugees in the border areas of Pakistan and were educated at one of the thousands of maddrassahs’ that dot the border frontier.”
As long as the Taliban sanctuaries remain active in Balochistan, the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (which include North and South Waziristan), supported by Pakistan’s ISI as Mullah Manan was, NATO will be forced to conduct combat operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan. And there are serious questions about NATO’s willingness to contribute to the fight in Afghanistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.