Matt Dupee looks at Operation Spin Ghar, a joint International Security Assistance Force and Afghan National Army operation in Uruzgan province. Matt writes at Afgha.com.
Fighting has rekindled in Uruzgan province, a mountainous area in central Afghanistan where Dutch and Australian forces have faced a well-established Taliban support network since 2005. Recent IED and suicide bomb attacks, one of which killed an Australian soldier in October, prompted a major response from the International Security Assistance Force and Coalition forces stationed there.
Coalition forces in Uruzgan unleashed Operation Spin Ghar (White Mountain) on October 25, the largest security operation launched in that province to date. There is an “estimated 1,500 soldiers drawn from the Afghan National Army (ANA), the Dutch Battle Group of ‘Task Force Uruzgan,’ Australian and Dutch special forces and the reserve company of the British-led Regional Command (South) of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), comprising soldiers of the Gurkha Rifles,” according to an Uruzgan Weblog report. Additionally, 650 Afghan Army personnel from the newly created 4th ANA Brigade arrived in Tarin Kowt and have since deployed alongside Dutch advisers.
This massive military offensive intends to rid the notorious Baluchi Pass, located in the heart of Uruzgan’s Chora Valley, of its Taliban infestation before winter sets in. The Baluchi Pass is a tight and winding track long known to be a Taliban supply line that squeezes through the larger Chora Valley, which connects Uruzgan’s capital Tarin Kowt to the mountain village of Chora. The Dutch contingent’s main base, Kamp Holland, is situated on the outskirts of Tarin Kowt as is the small US Firebase Ripley. Heavy fighting has broken out in the area all summer including the biggest Afghan engagement for Dutch forces, the Battle of Chora.
After 1,000 Taliban encircled the mountain villages of Chora and attacked on June 15, Dutch forces counterattacked with a massive artillery and aerial bombardment that lasted three days. Well over 100 Taliban died in the onslaught as did scores of civilians and Afghan security forces. Following the massive set piece battle, the remaining Taliban fighters retreated high into the mountains surrounding the Chora hamlet. The isolated Dutch outpost became unsustainable largely due to the lack of adequate Afghan security resources available to help operate critical security checkpoints. This deficiency allowed the Taliban to slowly reoccupy the valley and reestablish a foothold close to the Chora urban center.
After the battle for Chora
Heavy fighting has persisted ever since that June battle. Firebase Anaconda, an American outpost in Khas Uruzgan district, was attacked five times by large groups of Taliban between August and September. One large-scale engagement in mid-September left over 65 Taliban fighters killed as they attempted to ambush a joint Afghan-Coalition patrol. Ferocious battles continued well into early October. Two Dutch Apache gunships sustained major damage to their rotors after being hit by Taliban ground fire during a fire-support mission on October 8. Both crews landed safely and without injury, but the Dutch only have a total of five Apache helicopters stationed in Tarin Kowt. Coalition forces continued to carry out aggressive patrols and resultantly encountered a nasty attribute of Uruzgan’s Taliban elements: the improvised explosive device.
The Australian Defense Ministry noted over 25 IED attacks have been detonated against Coalition forces in Uruzgan over the last four months, a staggering increase compared to the past two years. When asked if the IEDs are becoming more sophisticated and whether the dreaded explosively formed penetrator is being used, an Australian defense spokesman said, “We’re starting to see similar devices to those that are deployed in Iraq. Yeah. We’re starting to see EFPs.”
Recent suicide bomb attacks and IEDs, one of which killed an Australian soldier in early October, are what prompted the current offensive to drive the Taliban further away from the cities. The Australian Counter IED Task Force, created in February 2006 to investigate the various types of homemade bombs being used in Uruzgan, went to work to help clear the few roads leading out of Tarin Kowt in preparation for Operation Spin Ghar.
So far Coalition forces have pushed deep into the Chora Valley and attacked a mid-level Taliban military meeting. The attack killed 50 of the attendees, ambushed and killed two dozen Taliban west of the Baluchi Pass, and disrupted a weapons and equipment safe house in which a pair of night vision goggles and bomb making components were confiscated and later destroyed. An unnamed senior Taliban commander was also reported to have been seriously wounded in the recent fighting, according to an AFP report. The latest engagement occurred on November 13 in the Deh Rawod district after a combined Afghan-Coalition reconnaissance patrol was ambushed by a large number of Taliban. Airstrikes destroyed the Taliban reinforcements filtering into the area, and the remaining Taliban ambushers were hunted down and killed by the Coalition patrol.
Coalition forces have sustained some casualties since the beginning of the operation, including an Australian SAS scout who was killed during an ambush, a US soldier who was killed in combat west of the Baluchi Pass, and a Dutch soldier whodied after the armored Fennec vehicle he rode in was struck by an IED. Two other Dutch soldiers sustained injuries from the blast. Coalition forces have also reported repulsing a sixth frontal assault on one of their firebases in Uruzgan. After a salvo of 82mm mortar fire nearly hit the base, close air support was needed to dislodge an entrenched Taliban position that was in close proximity to the base, according to a US military statement. No Coalition casualties were reported in the incident and no estimate on the number of Taliban killed was given.
Fighting in Uruzgan is expected to last for some time as Coalition and Afghan forces continue to push Taliban remnants higher into the mountains coinciding with plummeting temperatures and heavy snowfall. Operation Spin Ghar is one of many sub-operations of the all encompassing security initiative, Operation Pamir, launched on October 3 and expected to last until the spring of 2008. Other recent security operations took place in Ghazni, Wardak, and Badghis provinces, all of which successfully disrupted IED cells, netted foreign fighter cadres and their facilitators, and caught at least two Taliban commanders, Mullah Abdul Qayum and Rahmatullah.
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