Afghanistan Operation Falcon's Summit: The magic bullet? Or will we pay the price for being nice?
Taliban Driver: " Shhh. Did you hear that?"
Passenger: "Is that.....?"
As near as we can tell, that's an exact transcript of the last moment in the life of Taliban high mucky-muck Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Osmani who was blown to itsy bitsy pieces by a NATO plane last week.
It took forensic experts a week to positively (yes, we split the infinitive) identify the tiny bits of Osmani and the other three men in the car. Associated Press initially quoted their Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, as denying Osmani had been killed. But this week Reuters got confirmation from their (unnamed) Taliban source.
"He has died. We got this information on the day of the strike but our leadership ordered us not to disclose it," the commander, speaking by telephone, told a Reuters reporter in the Pakistani border town of Chaman. "He was not only an experienced military commander but also good in making financial transactions for us. He had good contacts," he said, without elaborating. "His death will have some bad impact on our movement for some time," he added.
It's impossible to overestimate the importance of killing Osmani.
Imagine if General Bernard Montgomery had been killed just before D-Day and you'll have some idea.
Osmani was the Taliban's chief of military operations in six provinces--- Uruzgan, Nimroz, Kandahar, Farah, Herat and Helmand. In April, Afghan President Karzai said he was one of the four most dangerous Taliban leaders in the country. He was said to be part of the triumvirate behind Taliban and Al Qaeda operations with Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban military commander, and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.
Some reports say Kandahar province, where Canadians troops have set up shop, was his baliwick, although a more recent report, from an Afghan general, has the Taliban's former defence minister, Mullah Ubaidullah Akhund, leading a force of about 400 insurgents in Kandahar province. He cited intelligence reports and information from Afghan troops on the ground, as well as from captured insurgents. Akhund would be getting his orders from Osmani who was killed in the Zahre district of Kandahar province after entering from Pakistan, presumably to lead his forces against Operation Falcon's Summit.
(For a complete examination of Osmani's crimes and background, Robert Lindsay's blog http://robertlindsay.blogspot.com/ is a must read.)
If killing Osmani is the only success of Operation Falcon's Summit, the latest combined Afghan-Allied Forces campaign in Kandahar and the largest NATO military operation yet in Afghanistan., then the whole thing will have been worth it.
The operation started two weeks ago with a melange of goals. One thing is certain, it was intended to be the exact opposite of Operation Medusa, the Canadian-led assault on Taliban forces in Kandahar this past summer. Operation Medusa ended with a Taliban retreat and up to 1000 dead insurgents. Falcon's Summit is the kinder, gentler approach to defeating the insurgency.
Operation Falcon's Summit put together a force more than three times more powerful than Medusa, with the intention of not using it for anything other than intimidation. Troops were ordered not to engage insurgents unless fired on first.
"In the now famous Operation MEDUSA that took place here in the late summer, the whole thing started with 48 hours of non-stop bombardment. We have started with 48 hours of non-stop discussion and negotiation: with the Afghan people." explained Canadian Colonel Mike Kampman, Chief of Staff, Regional Command (South).
The three things Falcon's Summit was intended to achieve were:
1. to highlight the participation of the Afghan army, which is to make villagers more inclined to support the fight against the Taliban when its by their home-grown soldiers instead of foreigners.
2. to spread around money for humanitarian purposes, aka buying the loyalty of villagers.
3. to separate the hardcore ideological taliban forces (called Tier 1) from the conscripts, mercenaries and local sons (called Tier 2) who, given a choice, might prefer to avoid getting killed by NATO troops. It's estimated that three-quarters of the insurgent forces are tier two. Operation Falcon's Summit is encouraging them to join the Afghan National Army instead.
Oh, and one of the principal aims of Falcon's Summit, according to General Rick Hillier, Canada's chief of defence staff, was to "exploit intelligence on the location of suicide-bomb workshops." A side effect of that goal would be killing Taliban leaders and suicide-bomb makers. Buh-bye Mullah Osmani.
The operation has been successful in weeding out regional and local Taliban commanders, although their removal is like eliminating an army's lieutenants, kill one and the enemy loses some operational experience, temporarily, until another leader is quickly slotted in.
Three key commanders were eliminated on the eve of the operation by a NATO airstrike that killed about 30 Taliban insurgents in Kandahar. A regional commander was captured in neighbouring Zabul province four days later and Osmani was killed the day after that along with two other Taliban commanders in his car. U.S. special forces swooped down on another regional commander in western Farah province the same day. NATO forces also launched air strikes against Taliban command posts, killing senior Taliban leaders.
"Taliban leaders are fleeing or being killed, and the Taliban soldiers don't know what to do," said Brig. Richard E. Nugee, the chief spokesman for Nato's International Security Assistance Force. "Like any organization, if you take out the head, often the body doesn't know what to do."
The first ISAF casulty of Falcon's Summit was Canadian Pte. Frederick Couture who stepped on a mine that blew his foot off. It was the first day of the operation and he was on a patrol in an area where two insurgents had been shot and killed the night before while planting a bomb 200 yards from the military outpost. (A Sunday Telegraph reporter was with the Canadian troops on the patrol and video of the rescue of Pte. Couture is posted on the newspaper's website at mms://telegraph.wmod.llnwd.net/a689/o1/Chamberlain_Afghanistan.wmv)
Operation Falcon's Summit began Dec. 14 with the movement of British, Danish and Estonian troops from Helmand province east into Kandahar province. They may have been shadowing 250 Taliban fighters who are said to have moved into Kandahar around that time. Afghan police and army sources said the Taliban force included fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan and Syria as well as three suicide-bombers.
NATO blanketed the villages targetted by Falcon Summit with pamphlets advising Taliban to leave before the main body of soldiers arrived. The pamphlets at the very least warned the insurgents to hide because American special forces trekking through the area found few fighters. They did find some arms caches which were destroyed.
Like a chess game, the pieces of the operation moved into place, creating a box 10 kilometres square. British and American forces are holding the south. British and Estonian forces control the west. The Canadians hold the north and east flanks.
Maybe they didn't get the memo to play nice, but Canadian forces joined the operation with a half hour barrage of artillery and LAV fire before moving out. They would eventually move into three villages which had not been part of Operation Medusa where they held meetings with elders and distributed cash and reconstruction aid.
The Taliban showed their contempt for these goodwill gestures by seizing at least two plows that had been distributed as part of Operation Falcon's Summit.
One of the villages visited by the Canadians was Talukan, where Taliban terrorists killed twomen before ISAF troops arrived as a warning not to collaborate with foreigners, including aid workers. One man was taken to the central market and stabbed to death. His body was hanged from a tree. A second man was beheaded for "spying" on the Taliban.
Who delivered the louder message remains to be seen.
Lt. Col. Omer Lavoie told the press on Christmas Eve that ISAF was in the final phase of the operation. Two-thirds of the forces had already moved out.
Left unspoken was what NATO planned to do with the estimated 400 to 900 insurgents boxed in the south of Kandahar.
Brig. Nugee said a week ago that about 50 Taliban had been killed so far, and 20 insurgents surrendered without a fight. About 20 Taliban fighters were seen running into a compound but NATO held off engaging them because they were holding women and children as human shields. What's become of them is a mystery.
If Operation Falcon's Summit takes the gloves off and wipes out the insurgent forces trapped in the box, then NATO will end the year with an amazing success. Victory in two major back-to-back battles in Kandahar will send an unmistakeable message. The Taliban have declared that next year the capture of Kandahar will be the primary objective. If we don't engage them now when we have them trapped, they will be alive and killing Canadian soldiers next spring. The string of suicide bombings in Kandahar ended with the launch of Operation Falcon's Summit. The lesson there is that as long as the Canadians are on the offensive, they win. Peacefully static, they lose.
Unfortunately, it appears the NATO command has decided that the non-confrontational model of Operation Falcon's Summit is the way to go.
Col. Mike Kampman says:
Over the coming weeks, we will finish mopping up the remnants of the insurgency in this area, and then we will move on to the next in another province. I believe that we have found the right combination to win this counter-insurgency campaign - the right balance between gaining the support of the local population on the one hand and using precision technology to destroy the hard-core insurgent leadership on the other.
Doug Beazley is a Sun Media journalist embedded with Canadian forces in Afghanistan. In addition to his regular reports from the battle zone, he blogs.
In a recent posting, he passed on the observations a man who has no reason to lie. He's a dog handler, one of the civilians working under a U.S. Department of Defence contract screening vehicles before they enter military bases, and he's been in lot of war zones.
Dec 18, 2006
22:51 pm, Doug Beazley / General, 136 words Ready, aye, ready
You remember Leon, the civilian dog handler from South Africa working out of Ma'sum Ghar? He's watched soldiers operate on four continents.
And he's never seen any army better than Canada's.
"You people don't know. These guys are very, very good," he told me.
"When they came into Ma'sum Ghar, the Taliban didn't have a chance. The Canadians blew the s-t out of them and took the place over like it was nothing at all.
"That's why the Taliban keep hanging around, dropping mortars and rockets on us. Ma'sum Ghar controls the district. They're mad as hell because they lost Ma'sum Ghar and there's no way they're ever going to get it back.
"The Canadians are the ones fighting the war here. If they pull out now, this whole country would fall apart in a week."
To which one reader responded:
Well, what else do they think? We would just walk in and leave? It's the worlds biggest hockey fight over there, and we dropped our gloves and can't find them. Looks like we'll just keep on swinging!
What can we add, except:
"Doo-doo-doo-DOOT doo-doooooo! Chaaarge!"