Re: How Important can Musa Qala be? Fighting Two Wars With a Peacetime Army.
- From: "Venceremos" <serwad@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: 4 Feb 2007 10:03:26 -0800
On Feb 4, 12:22 pm, "Cazador" <coaster132...@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
A strategy in tatters
The loss of Musa Qala to the Taliban leaves the under-resourced
British military in Afghanistan at the mercy of a more aggressive US
February 2, 2007 07:30 PM
Kandahar - The Taliban capture of the centre of Musa Qala in northern
Helmand is the biggest setback to British efforts in Afghanistan since
Tony Blair first sent troops there at the end of 2001.
The town, in the opium poppy growing belt along the Helmand river, had
been held by British paratroopers in desperate fighting through much
of the summer. British forces were spread out in small outposts or
"platoon houses" across the province - in the hope they would become
small havens of security from which the British and Afghan government
force hoped to spread "ink spots" of peace across the province - one
of the most violent in all Afghanistan.
Britain has about 5,400 service men and women now in Afghanistan, but
of them only 1,000 or so are combat troops. They are served by only
seven Chinook transport helicopters and eight Apache AH-64 helicopter
gunships to protect them.
With such thin resources, the British stability plan always contained
an element of bluff. By mid summer, within a few weeks of the arrival
of British forces in Helmand, it was evident that the Taliban were far
more numerous, better-armed and prepared than British and Nato
intelligence had indicated. It was feared that some of the isolated
positions in Sangin, and Now Zad, as well as Musa Qala, might be
overrun and their British and Afghan army garrisons slaughtered.
A deal was struck for the Taliban and the British to leave the centre
of Musa Qala and the elders and their council to take over. It was
discussed and endorsed by President Karzai himself and the senior
British commanders, including General David Richards, the British
commander of the entire international force ISAF, now some 32,000
strong. This week, as the deal was evidently unravelling, no one
wanted take responsibility for it.
All week, relations between the elders and the local Taliban became
more fractious. The house of a suspected Taliban leader, Mullah
Gaffur, was bombed by an American B1B Lancer bomber, but he escaped
and his car was later spotted by a Nato drone, abandoned in a ditch.
On the first day of this month, the Taliban attacked the centre of
town but were repulsed by local militia. In the morning, they attacked
again, ramming a tractor into the police station and wrecking a large
part of it. Compounds and houses were set on fire and hundreds fled
fearing a retaliatory air raid by Nato.
Officials at the British command in Helmand admit they had been
stunned by the attack. Most will say that, while the Musa Qala deal
was not perfect, it showed a way in which local Afghans could take
charge of their own security and fend off the Taliban. "We knew we
could never carry out a pacification," a senior British commander at
Nato told me. "You have to get down and dirty and do these local
Although the Italian and, on occasion, the American troops in southern
Afghanistan have successfully cut similar deals for local leaders to
stand up against the Taliban, the Americans are dead against the
British approach of mild threat and rough diplomacy.
"The Americans are always kinetic about these things - believing in
hard force first," said a British general concerned with relations
with the Americans. The new American commander who takes charge of the
international force in Afghanistan, Isaf, on Sunday, General Dan
"Bomber" McNeil has made his disapproval plain to the British. "He
describes the Musa Qala deal as a tactical mistake and a strategic
disaster," said a Nato source.
Which leaves British strategy and forces in Afghanistan in a bit of a
spot. The forces are still under pressure at other isolated centres -
virtually under siege in Sangiun, which holds the vital 611 main north-
south highway, and at Now Zad, where they are held in a ceasefire by a
more robust version of the Musa Qala truce. Royal Marines are involved
in a ragged guerrilla campaign around Garmsir, which includes the main
drug-smuggling route to Iran, as well as one of the main channels for
bringing Taliban recruits from Pakistan.
The British know they do not have the forces or back-up to go on the
offensive in a way the new McNeil command of international forces is
likely to want. In particular, they are short of support from medium-
sized and attack helicopters. The extra resources are not likely to be
found while UK forces are so heavily committed in Iraq as well as
Afghanistan, and the Treasury is demanding what amounts to a real cut
in funding in the current Comprehensive Spending Review. "The trouble
is that the government wants to fight two wars with what, in terms of
resources and funding, is really a peacetime army," said one senior
Musa Qala is a classical bit of deception on the part of Afghanis.
British called for the meeting of the leaders of Musa Qala, in order
to take over Musa Qala from the British, and guess who came to the
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