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Vol. 74/No. 8      March 1, 2010

Washington leads major
offensive in Afghan war
(front page)
February 16—The U.S.-led assault in Marjah, Afghanistan, is advancing, albeit slowly, as it enters its fourth day. Washington’s biggest problem so far appears to be the fallout from civilian casualties at the hands of U.S.-led forces—something Washington seeks to minimize as part of its strategy to weaken Taliban influence in the region.

A combined force of 15,000 troops are involved in Operation Moshtarak (Together), among the largest offensives since the imperialist invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Approximately five Afghan brigades make up more than half the force. The U.S military has five battalions and one reconnaissance regiment; the British military has comparable forces. In addition, there are a smaller number of NATO soldiers from Denmark, Estonia, and Canada.

While the Taliban claim some 2,000 fighters in Marjah, most estimates place their number at several hundred. As many as 100 Taliban, including many commanders, have fled the area, military officers told the New York Times. Sporadic resistance and a large number of roadside bombs, while not scoring many casualties, are frustrating the U.S.-led advance.

At least 27 Taliban combatants have been killed in the assault, Afghan officials told the press. On the other side, three deaths have been reported: one U.S., one British, and one Afghan.

Despite new, unusually strict rules of engagement designed to minimize civilian casualties, U.S.-led forces have killed at least 15 civilians in four separate incidents.

Marjah is a major farming town of roughly 80,000 people. While it is the last major population center held by the Taliban in Helmand Province, between three and four of the province’s 13 districts remain under Taliban control.

Marjah’s crop is opium poppy. As such, it has been an important base of operations and financial support for the Taliban, who have controlled the area for more than two years.

Preparation for the imperialist offensive was given an intelligence boost, reports the Wall Street Journal, with the capture of the Taliban’s “shadow governor” of the town in February.

A group of individuals—a “government in a box” as one NATO commander coined it—have been put together by Washington, its allies, and the Afghan government. They stand ready-in-waiting to replace the Taliban power structure when conditions permit.

Taking and holding the town is the first phase. Washington and its allies then intend to roll out the loyal administration. By maintaining a strong military and police presence and providing economic incentives, they aim to convince the local population that they are better off, in the short- and long-term, cooperating with the U.S.-backed Afghan government than with a weakened Taliban.

Washington recently scored a victory with the capture of a top leader of the Afghan Taliban. A joint operation by Pakistani and U.S. intelligence forces captured Mullah Abdulghani Baradar in Karachi, Pakistan, several days ago, the New York Times reported today.

Baradar is described as second only to Mullah Mohammed Omar, former head of the Taliban government. While the Taliban initially denied the claims, Taliban commander Akhtar Mohammad told Bloomberg News by phone that Baradar was captured by “foreign troops” during the Marjah operation, not in Pakistan.

If the Times report is accurate, it could represent a new level of cooperation between Islamabad and Washington against the Taliban forces led by Mullah Omar.  
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