The Battle for Marjah

After promising every spring to drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan and capture Kabul, the Taliban are now facing a powerful spring offensive of their own.

In a massive assault launched last Saturday – the biggest since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – about 15,000 American, British and Afghan troops successfully breached Taliban defenses around Marjah in turbulent southern Afghanistan’s central Helmand province. With about 80,000 inhabitants, Marjah is the last Taliban-held city on Afghan soil and the center for 90 percent of the world’s heroin trade, a major source of insurgent funds.

Codenamed Operation Moshtarak (meaning “together” in the Dari language), the offensive got off to an excellent start when US troops surprised the estimated 2,000 Taliban defenders with a helicopter lift into the city center behind enemy lines. The daring attack seized important points, disrupting Taliban defensive plans and subjecting Taliban fighters to attacks from both front and rear.

Shock and awe: A helicopter assault by U.S. Marines caught the Taliban off guard in Marjah.

Since then, the going has, as expected, been tough. This is due to the Taliban having planted booby traps throughout the city as well as to their snipers. According to one report, the enemy is concentrating in a central bazaar and in a densely-populated residential neighborhood, which they are defending fiercely. “The Taliban have booby-trapped everywhere. We can’t even come out of our homes,” one Marjah resident told Reuters.

The Taliban have used Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) extensively in the Afghan conflict. But the weapon’s presence in Marjah is so widespread, Marine Captain Ryan Sparks called the IED threat “the most significant…that anybody has ever faced. “I know there’s pressure plates, command-detonated, kite-string and pressure release IEDs. That will definitely be a problem, the IEDs,” he said.

Clearing booby-trapped neighborhoods of enemy fighters in house-to-house fighting is a time-consuming process. Fortunately, the American army has the experience of the 2004 Battle of Fallujah in Iraq to draw on, in which American troops quickly defeated, street by street, several thousand enemy combatants. This experience should also help make the Marjah battle a short one. When all is lost, the Taliban fighters are expected to melt into the civilian population or flee, as some are reported to have already done.

But the task of clearing Marjah has been slowed and made more difficult by the extra sensitivity American and allied troops must now show regarding civilian casualties. This was caused by what is perhaps the biggest Taliban victory of the war so far, namely, the change made to the allied Rules of Engagement (ROE) last year.

Due to media controversies about civilian deaths, the ROE were altered and now state American and NATO troops have to be very careful when conducting operations around civilians. It is now much more difficult, for example, for western forces to drop smart bombs or missiles on targets where civilians might be present.

One military analyst claims the ROE change occurred because of the Taliban’s ability to manipulate the media and western journalists’ “enthusiasm for jumping on real, or imagined, civilian deaths”, since dead civilians are considered news. In other words, the Taliban, who are very media-savvy, successfully turned civilian casualties in Afghanistan into “a powerful propaganda weapon” that many in the western media ran with.

In the liberal media’s world, civilian death scandals have other uses besides selling newspapers and boosting viewer ratings. They also come in very handy for assailing the military. Worst of all, the media’s agonizing over civilian casualties in Afghanistan seems one-sided. Thus, one sees few stories about the countless civilians the Taliban have brutalized and killed. And yet, according to one report, the Taliban have killed four times as many civilians as American and NATO troops. But that kind of civilian casualty scandal does not make for headline news.

For example, one does not often see a quote like the following from an Afghan father whose son lost his leg to a Taliban roadside IED:

“I do not mind if I am killed, provided the Americans get rid of the Taliban. Those tyrants have taken my son’s leg.”

There have been even fewer stories about the brutal treatment of Marjah’s civilian population under Taliban rule. One report states that Marjah families were forced to give their daughters as wives to Taliban fighters. People have also been executed as “spies.”

Instead, in the first days of the assault, it appeared publications like the New York Times were more focused on the 12 Afghan civilians that were killed in a house outside Marjah by an American missile than on the battle and the heroism of our troops. At first, it was thought this was an errant air strike, for which General Stanley McChrystal, the American commander, apologized. But it later turned out fire was being received from the house.

In all probability, the Taliban were using the civilians as human shields. American and NATO troops have reported similar human shield incidents in the Marjah battle. Exploiting the ROE, the Taliban have used innocent civilians as cover in attacks against western soldiers in other parts of Afghanistan as well.

One analyst believes the changes to the ROE have not just increased the danger to the lives of western troops, but also to those of the civilians they were supposed to benefit. Since American troops in Marjah have to advance more slowly out of concern for the civilian population, this leaves civilians longer in the unpredictable and dangerous hands of the Taliban as well as prolongs the battle.

Besides the bravery and professionalism of American and allied soldiers, the real story of the Marjah battle is not how many civilians have been killed, as the liberal media like to emphasize, but how few. According to one report, 15 Afghans have perished so far in the fighting. This, one observer states, is “spectacularly low by historical standards.” But that, unfortunately, is not news.

  • http://belizejungle.blogspot.com John R

    When it comes to questioning the ROE it sounds like there is a lot of armchair soldiering going on. When engaging in counterinsurgency its protection of civilians that is the number one priority – the professional force assumes all possible risk – thats what makes counterinsurgency operations some of the most difficult there are.

  • James Hovland

    I’m still curios to know why all our victories in the war on drugs were completely abandoned in Afghanistan for Bush’s war on terror.

    • http://www.itecode.com eerie Steve

      Because opium is not a narcotic, heroin is, stupid.

      • RalphB

        Steve, you ought to try looking up "opium" in your favorite search engine before you start calling others "stupid."

        To quote Wikipedia, which is usually reliable on non-controversial topics: "In a U.S. legal context, the term 'narcotic' specifically refers to opium, opium derivatives, and their semi-synthetic or fully synthetic substitutes, as well as cocaine and coca leaves."

        (This doesn't mean that I think the war on drugs is a wise use of the police power where the buyers and sellers are consenting adults. I don't.)

        • http://www.itecode.com eerie Steve

          To quote Wikipedia, which is usually reliable on non-controversial topics:

          :ROTFLMAO

          • RalphB

            Dear Steve,

            Encyclopedia Britannica:

            opium – narcotic drug that is obtained from the unripe seedpods of the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), a plant of the family Papaveraceae. (See poppy.) Opium is obtained by slightly incising the seed capsules of the poppy after the plant’s flower petals have fallen. The slit seedpods exude a milky latex that coagulates and changes colour, turning into a gumlike brown mass upon exposure to air. This raw opium may be ground into a powder, sold as lumps, cakes, or bricks, or treated further to obtain such derivatives as morphine, codeine, and heroin. Opium and the drugs obtained from it are called opiates.

            Perhaps you would like to sober up now?

      • aspacia

        eerie,

        Opium is indeed a narcotic: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/430129/

  • poptoy

    The war on drugs and illegal immigration being stopped is all the fault of the Kenyan. Lets pray that our boys In AFGAF can win this thing in short order and come home. All of them.

  • http://www.fallujahbook.com Richard S. Lowry

    To learn more about the fight to free Fallujah, read "New Dawn," available in bookstores in May, 2010. http://www.fallujahbook.com

  • bushlikesdick2

    I have a proposal and tell me what you think. I suggest that we start pulling out our troops slowly and replace them with Israeli soilders in U.S. uniforms. Then when we have most of the Israili army in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, then we can start taking orders from Israels military leaders. When this liberal media engages in a story during intense combat, then the Israeli Army can create "collateral damage" by killing them.

    Now you have no more excuses and no one to blame now. Obama isn't calling the shots ( or in your words being a complacent wus), the people directly responsilbe will be taken the brunt of the responsibility (Jews — the really hate the Jews and hate us for helping them)

    Then will spring it on the Taliban all at once that they have been fighting Israili's the whole and you (frontpage fags) can run the show. Fair enough?

    I give you 3 days at the most.

    • Rhonda Lefevre

      Yes, its the Jews that are behind everything! The Jews are getting American soldiers killed in their zionist plot to colonize Afghanistan!
      Furthermore, I have learned from this poster that the people who run frontpage are "fags!"

      • aspacia

        Rhonda, what are you on about? Why the personal attacks?

    • http://www.itecode.com eerie Steve

      How about just do what Spike TV did to America and get idiots to hurt themselves and, *chuckle* get this, ACTUALLY MAKE MONEY OFF THEIR DEATHS !!!

      COME ONE COME ALL TO THE GREAT CAT DESERT CAT SHELTER OF EERIE STEVE, WHERE CHINESE FOOD IS NOT EATEN BUT MADE !!!

      Friggin' you want some fried cat? How about deep fried Arab. That will be big in Georgia.

  • USMCSniper

    It is the damned politically correcrt rules of engagement that deserve our contempt because they put a higher value on the lives of the civilians used as human shields (either willingly of unwillingly) and the Taliban by warning them so they can run away to fight another day than those of own brave Marines. When I was a fireteam leader in 1965 and 1966 Vietnam, the battlefield was a kill zone, the operation was search and destroy; it was saddle up, lock and load, and kill everything that moves. Then in 1967, it started the failed "win the hearts and minds" strategy which we have seen does not and will not win wars. Damnit, the Romans learned that a long time ago with Hannibal and Carthage that there is no substitiute for total victory.

    • coyote3

      You are certainly correct and a big 25th Infantry "HOORAH" to you. I was part of that later "hearts and minds" bravo sierra. Cost us some men, and the whole place was not worth the life of one trooper or jarehead, but that is a story for anothe discussion.

      That being said, there is no reason, and certainly it could be counterproductive, to have rules of engagement which "intentionally" targeted civilians in most cases. I have never heard that the allies "were" purposely targeting civilians. Indeed, civilians, in any combat zone have a hard enough time as it is. I say that with the caveat that it assumes those civilians will not inject themselves into the conflict. Unfortunately, we have an enemy which has no problem actively intermingling with civilians (either by force or voluntarily), not just inadvertently, but as a deliberate tactic. Certainly, I have not heard anyone advocate "targeting" civilians, but that does not mean that we have to, cease combat operations, take additional casualties just because civilians are present.

      • http://www.itecode.com eerie Steve

        Let's say you have Wesley Dodd in a Mosque with AQ Khan and a live feed into New York City. No matter how many Arab children are in there, like it or not the air force will bomb it.

        It is only the professionalism of people like yourselves who turn "maybe 3-12 dead children" from "maybe 30,000 angry martyrs".

        Thank you for your service.

        • davarino

          Unfortunately your an idiot and you dont get his point. Unfortunately the enemy is going to be pissed regardless. Grow a brain cell man. What he is saying is that if the enemy knows that civilians are not going to save you they will stop using civilians. Get it?

  • Brian H

    Google "Perfidy Hague". You might learn something about legal responsibility for civilian casualties when fighting urban guerrillas.

  • http://www.itecode.com yearOfTheTigerSoup

    See. I'm telling ya. Keep Obama in power. He is doing a bang up job there brownie!

    • USMCSniper

      The bang up job is in spite of the fool Obama not because of him. And we shall see as time goes by when Obama will show us all his real agenda.

      • http://www.itecode.com eerie Steve

        Yet Reagen taught us to trust and verify. Obama has verified he is willing to be a military man as long as they are winning. Just like Lincoln. Hey look guys, I'm willing to die as President, just in my second term *innocent chuckle* *huh*huh*

        The one I hate the most is Biden. I would like to see the Obama monster dump Biden off Niagara Falls and put someone with spirit in charge. Rahm Emmanual maybe. And then make Dick Marcinko Secretary of Defense!

        • davarino

          I dont know if you are eerie or just incoherent.

  • Len Powder

    We need to undestand that liberal newspapers like the NY Times, Washington Times, LA Times and their corresponding TV propaganda outlets (MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN) WANT US TO LOSE IN AFGHANISTAN, just as they did in Iraq. Once we start to win they bombard us with civillian casualties, and if we keep winning, the ignore the wars altogether.

    The MSM is not cheering our soldiers to victory. One does not need a degree to see the obvious.

  • Markus

    Hello, greetings from germany!

    In a german political blog, a native afghan inhabitant writes, that the town marjah with it´s 80 000 inhabitants is a fake, because marjah is only a hamlet with a few hundreds inhabitants…what do you think about?

    http://ef-magazin.de/2010/02/18/1875-afghanistan-

    • davarino

      Now that figures. Its probably like the town in the movie "Blazing Saddles". The store fronts are made of card board.

  • Bruce

    The suicidal ROE's our troops now have to suffer with is an infuriating travesty no doubt dreamed-up by effete latte-sipping liberals in their air-conditioned DC offices. I believe it's part of another Leftist fantasy to just 'define' war out of existence by treating all international conflict as matters of law enforcement. We are effectively telling our troops that their lives are meaningless in the quest to "win hearts and minds" whatever that means: Left wing inanity made up by ivy league elitists who wouldn't know which end of the gun the bullet exists from. Send these loony twits over on detail to find and clear the IED's. Then watch how quick we return to good old "devastate the enemy" warfare. Just level the place and start over.

  • http://WWW.VULTURESQUADRON.COM BUBBASCOUTREB

    @noradnorthcom OUR ELEMENT,BUBBA,SCOUT,REB ARE ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE WAR ON TERROR NORTH AMERICA! OUR ELEMENT TURNED OVER,WHEN ASKED,TOTAL EVIDENCE OF TERRORISM/ESPIONAGE COMMITTED BY THE LAKEWOOD,COLORADO P.D. GINI(GOVERNMENT INTRUDER NO INTELLIGENCE) AND THE JEFFERSON COUNTY,COLORADO P.D.GINI WITH AID OF PUERTO RICAN TERRORIST D.CINQUANTA(8466 EVERETT WAY,ARVADA,CO.), TO THE U.S.DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY! THE U.S.D.I.A. TURNED OVER THIS EVIDENCE AND DETAILS TO THE U.S.JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF,U.S.PENTAGON,ARLINGTON,VA. TO ENACT THE WARNER DEFENSE LAW 2007 SEC.1076 TO EXTERMINATE THIS EMBEDDED DOMESTIC TERRORIST THREAT TO STABILITY OF NORTH AMERICA! COLORADO,LIKE MARJAH IN "THE BATTLE FOR MARJAH",IS THE HELMAND PROVINCE,NORTH AMERICA AND GINI ARE THE I.E.D.THREATS! COLORADO ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES' REBELLION AGAINST U.S.LAWS ALLOW THIS NARCOTICS/TERRORIST STATE TO ATTACK THE INCUMBENT PUBLIC LAWLESSLY! THE U.S.JUSTICE DEPARTMENT AND ENEMY ALI MEDIA OBSTRUCT FOR TERRORISTS TO DESTROY NORTH AMERICA FROM WITHIN! OUR ELEMENT,THE U.S.PUBLIC,U.S.TROOPS DEMAND U.S.NORTHCOM WAR FORCES IMMEDIATELY EXTERMINATE THIS COLORADO GINI THREAT AND ALL IN THE WAY OF VICTORY AND RESTORE ORDER! MORE DETAILS http://www.twitter.com/bubbascoutreb AND GOOGLE,YAHOO SEARCH "BUBBASCOUTREB"! NO DEBATE:NORTH AMERICA SUPPORTS US! VICTORY IN WAR ON TERROR NORTH AMERICAN CONTINENT!