US launches operation in Taliban stronghold of Zhari

Earlier today, the US military launched a brigade-plus-sized operation in the district of Zhari, the Taliban stronghold west of Kandahar known as “the heart of darkness.” From McClatchy:

U.S. forces launched a major operation in southern Afghanistan early Wednesday in the district that gave birth to the Taliban movement, in what could be one of the most important offensives of the war.

Thousands of U.S. and Afghan troops encircled and swooped into a belt of lush farm land in Zhari district, a sanctuary and staging post for the Taliban just west of Kandahar city known to foreign soldiers as “the heart of darkness.” Key insurgent-held villages such as Mukuan, Pashmul and Singesar are the target, areas essentially untouched by coalition forces since they entered Afghanistan in 2001.

The operation began at 4 a.m. local time Wednesday, approximately 7:30 p.m. EDT.

The firepower for the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Zhari is provided by three battalions of the 101st Airborne Division, bolstered by rangers and special forces teams, aiming to surprise the Taliban with a multi-day massive attack, including airborne assault. The nascent Afghan army, facing a major test of its battle-readiness, will be tasked to conduct house-to-house clearances

The Taliban are believed to have fortified positions and tunnels in the villages, protected by minefields and bobby-trapped buildings. The terrain, of trees, grape fields with raised earthen mounds, irrigation canals and tall elephant grass is ideal for cover for the Taliban guerrillas. Coalition and Afghan forces will also have to win the backing of locals by ensuring that the lives of any civilians present in those villages are protected.

Interestingly enough, there is no number given for the Afghan troops aiding the the Zhari operation. ISAF is usually quick to provide numbers for Afghan forces participating in operations, as this is considered a metric for success. ISAF claims that more than 10,000 Afghan soldiers and an estimated 5,000 police are in Kandahar, yet the reporting indicates that this is primarily a US operation.

Antonio Giustozzi, in Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop, has an excellent summary of the Zhari region and how the Taliban entrenched there in 2006 [see pages 124-126]. An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Taliban fighters were thought to have massed in the region. During a Canadian-led operation in Pashmul in 2006, an estimated 1,100 Taliban fighters were killed, and the Taliban suffered a major tactical defeat.

Yet despite their heavy losses, the Taliban remained in control of the region, as ISAF did not have troops to occupy the terrain. An understrength Canadian battlegroup that essentially had a battalion of Canadian soldiers available was unable to hold the ground, and the Afghan police who were put in charge of small outposts were chased off by the Taliban.

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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  • TMP says:

    Great news! On all accounts, especially a US only Op.

  • Scott P. says:

    “Antonio Giustozzi, in Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop, has an excellent summary of the Zhari region and how the Taliban entrenched there in 2006 [see pages 124-126].”
    Did I miss a link here or has my coffee just not kicked in yet?
    This is good. And my bet is that part of the uptick in drone activity in N.W. has a good deal to do with this op. I also wonder if the SOF ops that has been targeting leadership in and around Kandahar has resulted in intelligence for the drone activity?? Any thoughts Bill?
    Like the new look on your site. Well done as usual.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Scott, my apologies, Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop is a book…
    I can only speculate on the relationship between Kandahar and N Wazir strikes, my guess is there isn’t much of a relation between the two other than the application of pressure across the board. The Kandahar Talib leadership is largely based in Quetta.
    Glad you like the new site, thanks for the kind words.

  • Girish says:

    Excellent news, analysis and good detail. After a looong time, refreshing to see great reporting of an important event in history.

  • Rhyno327 says:

    News of this operation is scarce, i checked around and can’t find anything up to date. Im really hoping for good news. Anything anybody?

  • Warrior says:

    I was stationed in Zhari in summer of ’09 as a police mentor (US Army). You really kind of down play the success the police and Canadians had during that time. The police were never ‘chased off’ as far as I knew and Operations Tora Arwa II, Tora Arwa III and Constrictor phase IV all dealt some pretty serious blows to the Taliban.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Warrior, I am referring to the post-2006 operation discussed by Giustozzi. But regardless the Taliban have remained in control of Zhari.


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