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In what seems to have become an annual tradition, American-led forces in Afghanistan have begun their fall offensive. NATO forces and units of the Afghan National Army are seeking out the Taliban in the hopes of destroying them in open battle. Thus far, there has been little contact with the enemy. It is likely that the Taliban will choose to avoid the Allied forces, leaving behind roadside bombs and ambushes, at least in the initial phases before turning around and fighting back on territory they are familiar with. While there will be casualties amongst the Western troops, if all goes according to plan, ground held by the Taliban will soon be controlled by NATO, enabling the Afghan government to begin to assert control and win the hearts and minds of the locals.
Eight thousand NATO and Afghan troops are a formidable force, and will of course be backed by the full might of NATO’s aircraft and artillery. But to a certain extent, this is déjà vu all over again. The current drive by U.S. and Afghan forces is sweeping through the Zhari district near Kandahar City, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban. The Canadian Forces already cleared this sector in 2006. After the success of that operation, however, the Taliban gradually filtered back in and reasserted control after the Canadian units moved on to fight in other areas. It is hoped that this time, with the U.S. surge complete and more Afghan troops available, it might be possible to secure the territory for good.
There is some cause for optimism. A recent assessment by the local Canadian commander reported that the security situation in the district controlled by his troops had recently improved, a fact he credited to the surge of U.S. forces. The Canadian commander’s cautious optimism is in accord with those of his U.S. counterparts; even an official as high as Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently expressed his belief that the surge of an additional 30,000 American soldiers into Afghanistan was helping to bring down violence and increase the effectiveness of the Allies’ efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and deny the Taliban an opportunity to return to power.
In addition to the surge, there are recent signs that NATO and particularly the United States are willing to go further than ever to seek out and destroy the Taliban, wherever they may be. In a surprising development, NATO helicopter gunships recently violated Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and invaded that country’s airspace. They were responding to an attack on a NATO base inside Afghanistan by Taliban forces, who fled into Pakistan after carrying out their attack. NATO helicopters hunted them down and discovered them inside Pakistan, a traditional safe haven for militants returning from attacks on NATO forces in Afghanistan. The NATO helicopters flew into Pakistani airspace and engaged the Taliban troops, killing at least 30, and perhaps as many as 60.
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