We haven't been this excited since Mullah Dadullah was blasted to Hell early last year.
What was looking like the Taliban's biggest victory of the year turned out to be their biggest defeat. In five days the British accomplished the impossible, with the help of Afghan, American, Canadian, Australian, Dutch and French soldiers and air power.
What we're babbling about is the delivery to the Kajaki hydro station in Helmand province of a 242 ton turbine, plus a 90 ton crane to lift it into place, which will be the tipping point of the Afghan war.
A convoy of 100 vehicles protected by 5000 soldiers brought the giant turbine across 115 miles of mined roads in six days protected by an armada of fighter jets, Apache helicopters, AC-130 gunships, and unmanned drones. It was the largest route-clearance operation by British forces since World War 2.
Taliban fighters tried to stop the convoy, which stretched 4 kilometres. And more than 200 were killed. The insurgency has managed to delay vital repairs and upgrading of Kajaki Dam for almost two years and, until this past week, it looked like they were going to successfully stop the project from ever going ahead. Instead, they were exposed as ultimately powerless in the face of NATO and U.S. determination.
British and U.S. special forces swept enemy fighters from the path of the convoy. Both sides of the route were covered by infantry troops from all three battalions of the Parachute Regiment, which leapfrogged ahead of each other in 13 Chinook British and ISAF helicopters
While bomb disposal teams cleared the roads and engineers repaired bomb craters, Afghan National Army soldiers with their mentors from 1st Battalion Royal Irish drove insurgents from villages approaching Kajaki.
The Chinese built giant turbine, which will be the third installed at the dam, was flown to Kandahar airfield on a Russian plane. It was divided into seven sections. The convoy's cargo had to be carried on six British and three Canadian 35-ton heavy equipment transporters designed to carry tanks. The load was so heavy the HET's blew tires and damaged their hydraulic systems, forcing the convoy to crawl along at 2 miles per hour for much of the trip.
The Royal Regiment of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers did the rolling repairs.
2000 American and Canadian soldiers protected the convoy for the first 50 miles starting late Wednesday, Aug. 27. The Brits took it from there. Two British soldiers were injured, both in accidents. One Afghan soldier was shot (non-fatally) by a sniper and another accidentally wounded himself.
Chinese engineers will install the turbine by June or July of 2009. It will triple the output of the dam. A second turbine still needs to be repaired, and power lines have to be laid. That could take another two years at least.
But when its finished it will transform southern Afghanistan.
- It will deliver power to 1.8 million people and provide irrigation for hundreds of square miles.
- It will let farmers grow two crops a year instead of one, which, given the price of foodstuffs could price opium out of the market.
- A new source of electricity means power for pumps to bring drinking water to millions.
Apart from the military struggle, there are three wars being fought in Afghanistan--the education war, the electricity war and the opium war.
The education war is won. The Afghan people have spoken; they want their children, boys and girls, educated and they will fight any Taliban or Al Qaeda insurgents who threaten the education system. The education war was a turning point.
But the electricity war is the tipping point. Once the power flows, the populace will have something they will fight to protect. And with electricity comes television and radio and the influence of the world the Taliban hates and wants to destroy. They will become pitted against the people, a fatal position for an insurgency.
While the British in Afghanistan were justifiably celebrating a great success against impossible odds, Canadians were suffering more unnecessary casualties. Three Canadian soldiers were killed and five injured in a classic ambush in Kandahar province. A bomb hit a convoy and the Canadians were attacked when they got out to help. According to the account in the Globe and Mail (Inside the Taliban's deadly ambush, Graeme Smith, Sept. 5, 2008) the Canadians counterattacked fiercely.
But its not the bravery of the troops that's in question. Its the leadership provided by the officers.
Only a week ago the Canadians were touting the success of Operation Timis Preem, a strike into the Pashmul district of Kandahar to destroy the Taliban's bomb-making capability. The message couldn't be any clearer. When you're on the offensive, you win. When you give up the initiative, you die.
The ambush that killed the 3 Canadian troopers should have been anticipated. The Taliban are nothing but creatures of habit. Once they won a propaganda victory by killing nine Americans in an attack in July, they simply repeated the process, killing 10 French soldiers in an ambush a few weeks later, and wounding 9 Australian soldiers in another ambush.
You didn't have to be Kreskin to figure out who was next on the list.
Canadian forces spokesman have been bragging that for every roadside bomb that goes off, nine are found. So what? The answer is not to find IED's, it's to prevent them from being planted in the first place.
We hate to be armchair generals. But if the real generals say nothing, then someone has to fill the void.
* We have night vision goggles, yet the Taliban seem to move at will at night. Why?
* We have a highly praised special forces unit, the mysterious JTF-2, but they seem to be doing nothing to kill the people who place IED's in the road to kill Canadian soldiers. Why?
* We have unmanned drones. But they seem never to be used to protect convoys from abushes. Why?
We'll be pressing for answers to these questions in the months ahead.
The Americans, meanwhile, are not standing still. They're taking the fight into the heart of Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions which have, up to now, been off limits.
This past Thursday another US drone fired three missiles into a house in North Waziristan on Thursday, killing five Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters and injuring four more. The attack came a day after Afghan and U.S. forces raided a village in Pakistan's South Waziristan region in the first cross-border commando raid of the war.
The Times Online reported ( US accused of attack in Pakistan that kills 20, Philippe Naughton, September 3, 2008)
"Habib Khan Wazir, a local resident said that the incident involved both American and Afghan troops, who attacked houses in a village called Musa Nikow. He said that he heard the sound of helicopters, and then an exchange of fire between the assailants and other residents.
"Later, I saw 15 bodies inside and outside two homes. They had been shot in the head," Mr Wazir told the Associated Press. He said the dead included women and children and that all were civilians.
Other news reports claimed the troops flew in on a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter about 4:30 a.m. before shooting their way into three houses to kill the men they found inside. Some residents said the troops took some people with them. "
The Taliban ended the week with a series of suicide bombings. The worst was in the Nimroz province in the south, west of Helmand where a suicide bomber disguised as a beggar entered a secure government building and killed at least six people, including the province's intelligence chief.
On Sunday, Sept. 7, two suicide bombers blew themselves up at Kandahar police headquarters killing two and leaving 38 wounded. And a suicide bomber attacked Italian troops in the city of Herat, but only managed to blow himself to pieces.