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War In Afghanistan 2007 Week 46 and 47

Short and sweet, the headline told the whole story.

"Troops capture Taliban's birthplace"

"Canadian troops pushed the Taliban out of their birthplace in a storm of artillery shells and rockets on the weekend..."

Canadian soldiers had driven Taliban fighters out of Sangisar, described by the Globe and Mail as "a stubborn enclave of insurgents where the Taliban's supreme commander, Mullah Muhammed Omar, founded the armed movement in 1994."

The significance of that action can't be oversold. When the Canadians forced a humiliating retreat of Taliban forces from the Panjwai district of Kandahar province in 2006 it was like NATO setting up camp in the Taliban's back yard. With the capture of Sangisar, we've moved into their living room.

By the account of G&M reporter Graeme Smith, it was a hard fought battle highlighted by the Taliban's use of children as human shields and Canadian forces calling down artillery and air strikes so close to their own positions that they were peppered with shrapnel.

See combat video at - Battle for Sangisar - Afghanistan/

Major Richard Moffet, the battle group commander, said direct fire from his troops killed a dozen insurgents. Another 20 to 30 were killed by the artillery fire and aerial bombing. Helicopter gunships, snipers, and French Mirage jets swept Taliban positions for nearly two days before the engagement ended.

Two Canadian soldiers--Cpl. Nicolas Raymond Beauchamp, 28, of the 5th Field Ambulance in Valcartier, and Pte. Michel Levesque, 25, of the 3rd battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, Valcartier--and an Afghan interpreter, whose name we haven't been able to find, died when the vehicle they were in hit a roadside bomb. Three other soldiers were injured.

The troops were riding in a LAV III Light Armored Vehicle, a particularly easy target for insurgents.

Roadside bombs have killed 24 Canadian soldiers this year. Only two have died in combat situations--one hit by a mortar and the other a photographer killed when a U.S. helicopter was downed in Helmand province. (The other Canadian fatalities were a suicide, an accidental shooting and an accidental fall off a tower while conducting surveillance.)

By contrast, in 2006, IED's killed six Canadians, suicide bombers killed 10, and 14 died in combat.These casualty figures are an indictment of the officers in the Canadian military. When you lose fewer soldiers during a major combat operation than in the reconstruction that follows, it's clear we're better off taking the fight to the enemy than waiting patiently for him to bring death to us.

With four years of ground fighting in Iraq as a precedent, how can it be that Canadian forces have done next-to-nothing to offset the threat of IED's other than to make bold promises of new equipment whenever a roadside bomb kills more soldiers. Husky replaces Nyala replaces LAV and still troops die and die needlessly.

Through October, the number of improvised explosive devices, including car and suicide bombs, totaled 1,932, up from 1,739 for all last year, according to military statistics.

Wasn't anyone paying attention to the style of fighting in Iraq before we set off for Afghanistan? Where were the new tactics? The best equipment? The brainy scientists with fancy solutions? How can we accept a ratio of one combat death (not counting the photographer) to 24 deaths from IED's? Answer: we can't and we shouldn't. Someone has to be held accountable?

Back to the fighting...

The timing of the Sangisar push may not have been an entirely independent decision by Canadian planners. Unreported in the Canadian media is the push on the Taliban stronghold of Musa Qala that started one week earlier. Was Sansigar a diversionary assault to draw off potential reinforcements?

Early this month, a column of 50 British armored vehicles from the Scots Guards pushed into Taliban-held territory in northern Helmand province, encircling the town of Musa Qala. It may be the final push to drive the Taliban from the town they've held since February and to hammer the final nail into Taliban claims of success in 2007.

The British left Musa Qala in the fall of 2006 under the fig leaf of a peace agreement that would see local elders keep Taliban fighters under control once the NATO forces were gone. Ha Ha. As fully expected, the Taliban simply swept in and took over when they chose, turning Musa Qala into a base for attacks south into British-held Helmand and Canadian-held Kandahar provinces, and east into Dutch-held Uruzgan province.

But they've known the day of reckoning is approaching. Since September, U.S. special forces have been chipping away at Taliban insurgents in the Musa Qala district. Coalition forces lured Taliban fighters into remote valleys were they were decimated by superior air power. 5 major engagements since September killed an estimated 250 insurgents. According to, most of the recent fighting has been several kilometers south of the city in a rugged valley known as the Musa Qala Wadi.

The British assault is tempered to give time for negotiations with one of the militias occupying Musa Qala. One of the four senior Taliban commanders in the area, Mullah Abdul Salaam, has indicated he wants to defect with up to a third of the forces defending Musa Qala, another indicator of which side the Afghan people think is winning.This comes as shocking news to mainstream media reporters who love to point out that the Taliban is "resurgent" and the insurgency is spreading.

This, from Reuters, is an excellent example:
Despite the high casualty rates among Taliban rebels whenever they clash directly with Afghan and foreign troops, the insurgency shows no sign of abating, but instead has spread from the south and east to areas previously considered safe.

What they ignore is that the Taliban are being attacked in their backyard for the second year running and are being driven out by NATO forces (Panjwai, Sangin, Sansigar, Musa Qala). The old commanders who came from Kandahar have been humiliated and have lost their influence. The new commanders are concentrating their attacks on the east and north, where they think they can make gains against NATO countries like France, Germany and Italy who refuse to fight and depend on U.S. forces to hold off the insurgents.

"We have sent hundreds of new and fresh Taliban suicide bombers to Afghan cities for attacks on occupying foreign troops and their Afghan slaves," one Mullah Hayatullah Khan recently told Reuters "by satellite telephone from an unknown location."

"These Taliban suicide bombers were sent from Taliban camps to Afghan cities, including cities in the north of Afghanistan to find good targets," he said. Next year, he said, would be even worse. "Next year, 2008, will be the bloodiest year for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and we will make the Afghan land a graveyard for foreign forces," he said.

The last "commander" to make the same boast, Mullah Dadullah, was last seen wondering where the rockets that blew him to pieces came from.

Still, more than 200 people have been killed in at least 130 suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan this year. A suicide bombing in Baghlan province, north of Kabul, this month left 77 dead and 100 wounded. The carnage was so great nobody has taken credit for the attack, although from the bragging by Mullah Hayatullah Khan, it's obvious. The deadliest attack previous to this was in June when a suicide bomber killed 35 people in an attack on a police bus.

Last Friday a suicide bomber attacked Italian troops inspecting a bridge near Kabul. One Italian soldier was killed along with nine civilians, including four children. But in most instances the attacks follow this pattern:

HERAT, Afghanistan (AFP) - A suicide attacker blew up a car bomb near an Italian military convoy in Afghanistan, killing only himself, an Afghan general said, in a blast similar to others by the Taliban. The attacker detonated the explosives about 100 metres (yards) from the convoy in the western province of Farah but the vehicles drove off unscathed, General Dayan Andarabi said.

KABUL (AFP) - A suicide bomber blew himself up near a convoy of NATO soldiers in Afghanistan on Saturday, causing only minor damage, the alliance's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) In another in a stream of attacks, a suicide bomber blew himself up near an ISAF vehicle in Helmand's Gereshk area, Andiwal said.There were no other casualties.

The British Ministry of Defence released this account of a suicide bomber's attack on a patrol returning to base:

"The incident, which lasted a matter of seconds, happened as the soldiers, from 473 Special Observation Post Battery, 5 Regiment Royal Artillery, were heading back to the camp in Gereshk. A white Toyota Corolla, which contained a suicide car bomber, suddenly pulled out and attempted to drive into their convoy of Pinzgauer vehicles.

The first Pinzgauer swerved to avoid the car and the top cover sentry, Corporal Lee Wilbor, fired a single shot through its window, causing the driver to collapse at the wheel. But the Toyota carried on, swerving erratically into the path of the rear vehicle, whose soldiers opened fire causing the car to veer out of the way before it dramatically exploded.

Describing the incident, Captain James Ashworth, said: "Initially I thought 'what is this guy up to', as the local traffic usually pulls over. I then shouted a warning; fortunately my top cover sentry, Corporal Wilbor, was in an ideal position to fire a single well aimed round. The rear vehicle then opened fire on the target and the bomb detonated. Luckily it was now between our two vehicles and we were sufficiently far apart from the blast not to sustain any serious injuries."

Corporal Darren Clark, the driver of the front vehicle, said;
"As soon as I saw the car heading towards us, I knew it must be a suicide bomber, I veered off but he still managed to clip the rear of the Pinzgauer, at the same time, Frodo [Corporal Lee Wilbor] got a round off at him and then the rear vehicle opened fire. The white vehicle then detonated; I felt shrapnel flying over our heads; I was told to stop but the explosion had blown the brakes, so it took me a while. We then jumped out and got to business in clearing up."

Corporal Sandy Blunt, Top Cover sentry of the rear vehicle, said; "I had just noticed some kids waving at me and I waved back. It was then it happened; I heard a crash and then a shot rang out from the front vehicle. I turned and saw the white vehicle heading toward me. We then as a team opened fire on it.

"When the white vehicle was about 10 metres away, it exploded. Corporal Bayliss and I were flung to the floor by the blast. I jumped up and thought the Sergeant Major and driver must be dead. But to my amazement, the 'Boss' was on his feet, calm as you like, and round the vehicle to see if we were all ok."

The blast caused only slight damage to the vehicles and some of the patrol sustained minor blast injuries like nose bleeds. They secured the area and took care of those needing medical attention. The medics also attended to an Afghan motorcyclist who had been trying to pass as the bomb was detonated, unfortunately he had died instantly.

The Officer Commanding 473 Special Observation Post Battery, Major Tony Phillips, added:
"This proves the training works. The key thing is we went in and performed a role of which we are highly trained and able to react to any given situation. I am extremely pleased and delighted with the performance of my troops on this and all the other missions they have completed. There is a real confidence throughout the Battalion for all the scenarios that they will encounter on this tour."

The British news offers some of the best snapshots of the action in Afghanistan. Recently the return home of one Army regiment offered a barometer to the fighting, the success and the future of NATO's mission.

How Royal Anglians killed 1,000 Taliban Daily Telegraph (UK) 16/11/2007 Thomas Harding
The intensity of combat in Afghanistan has been laid bare as one Army regiment revealed that it had fired one million rounds, killed 1,028 Taliban and lost nine men in a six-month tour of duty.


At times, fighting saw 1Bn of the Royal Anglians having to "winkle out the Taliban at the point of a bayonet", said Lt Col Stuart Carver, the commanding officer, at the battalion's medal ceremony.


Lt Col Carver said his men had fought conventional trench warfare, engaging a well-trained enemy from, at times, 15 feet away.
"There was some pretty fierce fighting in conditions you would sometimes see in World War Two, clearing buildings and trenches."
The enemy was highly trained and well equipped, although others were poorly trained fanatics.
"The good ones are extremely good, religiously motivated and will stay and fight until the last," Lt Col Carver said. "Sometimes they had to be winkled out of buildings at the point of a bayonet."

He said the Taliban mounted more than 350 attacks on his troops.

"By the end of the Anglian tour, three quarters of shop fronts had been restored to Sangin, which had previously been a ghost town. A school for 500 boys and girls had opened and the population had electricity. The security threat had also dropped to 'Northern Ireland levels'."

Northern Ireland levels. Lt. Col. Carver may have just set the standard for measuring progress in Afghanistan.

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