Thursday, February 18, 2010

Slow going for NATO forces in Marjah

Operation Moshtarak ("togetherness"), Nato's most ambitious military operation in Afghanistan to date, has run into rougher weather than thought. The operation is intended to clear Marjah city in Helmand province of the Taliban. Four days into the operation, the Nato forces control only a small portion of the 155 sq mile area.

The city's total population is 80,000. Nato has committed 15,000 troops, including the famed US marines. But, with all their firepower and air back up, they have not found the going easy. The invading force has been surprised by the tactical skill and training of the other side. Moreover, the Taliban has thus far not lived up to the assumption that he will melt away in the face of the onsalught. The insurgents have shown a determination to stand and fight.

FT's correspondent has an exciting eye witness account:

Marine commanders remain optimistic that their initial efforts at establishing bubbles of security around key commercial areas will have a catalyzing effect on the population and will result in residents identifying Taliban fighters, bomb locations and arms caches.

Thus far, however, most residents seem to be opting for a wait-and-see approach. Most roads used by the Marines have been devoid of people, save for a few curious gawkers. The bazaars are similarly abandoned, some so hastily that merchants left their onions and potatoes sitting atop wooden carts.

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