Mr. Obama, welcome to your very own war. The Taliban are chipping away at the US presence . . . and already we're reading of complaints from locals in Helmand (the location of the Marines' Operation "Dagger Thrust" - or Khanjar) that soldiers are forbidding them from leaving their houses and are driving their tanks through their farm fields, ruining their eventual harvests (which are their livelihoods, which support their families, keep them from starving . . . you know, stuff like that)
“Our entire village is surrounded,” said Sefatullah, a resident of a village in Nad Ali called 31 West. “The foreigners are driving their tanks in our fields. They will not let anyone come out of their houses.”
A resident of Nawa had a similar tale.
“There are more than 60 tanks in our fields,” said Sher Agha. “Why can’t they drive on the roads? Do they think they are going to find Taleban in our fields? They are causing enormous damage.”
The Taleban have offered little resistance so far, although some residents reported the sound of heavy machine-gun fire, and one said that a few rockets had landed on his village in Nawa.
“There is no fighting yet, but…there have been a huge number of airplanes patrolling,” said Sharafuddin, in Nawa. “I can see the Taleban. They are sitting on the riverbank, just watching, and preparing themselves for the fight. . . ..”
A resident of Khosrabad, who did not want to give his name for fear of the Taleban, confirmed that there was now a heavy insurgent presence in his village.
“The Taleban are telling people to leave, to get out of their houses,” he said. “This is the opposite of what they usually do. They used to make people stay, to use them as shields.”
The Taleban, for their part, say they are preparing for battle.
“We will fight until our last breath,” said Mullah Abdullah, a local Taleban commander in Helmand, who returned to Nawa just a few days ago. He was seriously injured in a skirmish with international forces in May, and had gone to Pakistan for treatment. He is now back, and ready for jihad.
“This operation will not have any result. The Taleban will never let the Americans and these other kofirs (infidels) control the villages. We will fight until our last breath.”
The Taleban have already claimed at least one victim: press reports indicate that one marine was killed and several others wounded or injured during the first day of fighting.
Helmandis, meanwhile, are a bit puzzled about all the hardware. The Taleban cannot be defeated with a frontal assault, they say. Guerrilla warfare, or so-called asymmetric combat is hard on the larger army, and on the civilians caught in the middle.
“The foreigners are bragging that they will get rid of the Taleban. Give me a break!” said one angry resident in Nad Ali. “They could bring 70,000 soldiers, [but] they still would not be able to do it. One Taleban fighter attacks them from inside a house, then he escapes. The Taleban are never going to get together all in one place, to have a major fight. The only thing they will be able to do is kill civilians.”
Political analyst Wahid Muzhda, who worked as a civil servant under the Taleban regime, is also sceptical about the success of Operation Khanjar.
“With all the soldiers and hardware, it is not going to be difficult to gain control of the areas,” he told IWPR. “But how long are they going to stay? This is the rule of guerrilla warfare: if the guerrillas are facing a decent army, they are not going to stay and fight. They will flee, and come back once the army has left.
“Let’s wait until the end of this operation. If the Americans set up bases after gaining control, then it is clear that [President Barack] Obama’s strategy for resolving Afghanistan’s problems is going to be implemented. If not, this invasion is just a tactical move. It’s nothing more than a propaganda campaign for the new general.”