The NATO Winter Offensive in Afghanistan

NATO doesn’t wait for the Taliban’s spring offensive as the Taliban attempts to seize Helmand province, launches Operation Kryptonite

Afghanistan NATO 1.JPG

Map of ISAF Mission in Afghanistan. Click to Enlarge.

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.

Mullah Akhtar Usmani, killed in an airstrike in December 2006. Click image to view.

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

“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.

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  • crosspatch says:

    Pakistan is the real problem here. Until that problem is solved, we are simply cannon fodder. As long as the terrorists have a safe haven of operations in Pakistan in which to staff, plan, and train for operations world wide, there really isn’t much we can do aside from treating the symptoms.
    At some point Pakistan’s feet must be held to the fire.

  • ACER says:

    The acceptable level of collateral casualties has been driven so low that it seems almost bizarre. Are the thousands of maddrassahs’ the Achilles in a war of attrition? Am I ignorant? Please educate me.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 02/15/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    If I understand right, the British are responsible for all the Helmand river valley. I’m beginning to wonder if the Teliban are going to single out the British this fighting season for heavy attacks. The British are typically our strongest link to the European side of NATO. Politically, the British position has weakened to the point where they are just waiting to pull out in Iraq and are starting to position NATO for a withdrawal from Afghanistan. This might be part of an attempt to put political pressure on the British.

  • bman says:

    According to the EU Referedum site the British army is poorly equiped, under supplied, has no armour or air support, and a crappy officer corp. That sounds like someone I would rather attack than the 82nd. Airborne.

  • michael ferrini says:

    I am no political or military expert or an aficionado of foreign policy. I am just an average American citizen concerned over the foresight clearly demonstrated here on this site. Pakistan and Iran are clearly in need of being dealt with on a global scale, immediately. I honestly would not rule out a preemptive nuclear attack as a measure to subdue the Ugly which continues to rear its head, decade after decade since Truman and the West helped usher the Israeli’s into the region. The conflict is historically inevitable and has been building ever since, yet nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room with a sense of logic and unemotional reason? I am definitely not a fan of nuclear power and it certainly has proven to be the scourge of modern civilization as the primary symbol of absolute power. But the writing is on the wall and I can’t believe we aren’t talking about it openly in the media. We aren’t going to “sell”

  • Neo-andertal says:

    michael ferrini,
    Nuking them isn’t the answer. The answer comes when the populations of Muslim nations get tired of constant warfare and see no alternative other than destroy the Islamists themselves.
    It is true that it can go the other way and lead to an Islamist takeover in Pakistan. In that case the US and India may have to take more drastic action. Until that happens, we need to keep grinding away and see if we can keep this thing from expanding.

  • Johnnyb says:

    Good article, well versed and researched. I’ve noticed a number of taliban commanders have been killed recently, glad someone is reporting it. Checked out the above mentioned website where the Afghan expert is from and it is //, not I hope the recent targeting of Taliban leaders continues, and hopefully Gates’ meeting in Pakistan will cement the fate of the big fish like Haqqani, Hekmetyar and/or Omar-

  • John L Hobson says:

    I understand the Taliban fly a white flag. Its a good thing the french all have desk jobs. If they were on the battle field it would be too confusing.

  • Amicus says:

    Just thinking aloud, but I wish that someone – anyone – had some pictures of fleeing fighters using children as human shields.
    In these instances, a camera is worth more than a rifle, in the broader battle.
    We had some video pictures of fedayeen (or someone) using ambulences to launch offensive incursions, during the early fighting in the South of Iraq.
    I dunno, I guess I just get the sense that some folks do not realize just how important that kind of image *may* be in the broader effort of counter-insurgency and counter-terror.

  • CatoRenasci says:

    Neo-andertal wrote:
    The answer comes when the populations of Muslim nations get tired of constant warfare and see no alternative other than destroy the Islamists themselves.
    This is true as far as it goes, but unfortunately, I am afraid the voters in the West will tire of constant warfare and give up long before the Muslims do.
    I wish more people paid attention to the early history of the Muslim conquests in the Middle East, Asia Minor and North Africa in the 7th 7 8th centuries – how it was the factionalism and lack of resolve in the Christian states, and their attempts to minimize the threat and to use the Muslims against their Christian enemies rather than to see it as an existential threat that enabled the Muslims to obtain the local strategic and tactical superiority to defeat Christian states in detail, when a united Christian front in, say 650 or 700 would have nipped Muslim expansion in the bud.


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