Feb. 14, 2010 —
Members of the Afghanistan Army with 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh wait at a helicopter landing zone during Operation Moshtarak.
HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanstan (Feb. 14, 2010) — The initial key objectives of Operation Moshtarak have been achieved in a short space of time and with minimal interference from the Taliban, according to UK military spokesman Major General Gordon Messenger.
The "clearing" phase of the operation was launched at 0400hrs local time this morning with a series of simultaneous helicopter assaults and ground offensives undertaken by thousands of Afghan Army forces and ISAF soldiers from nations including the UK, US, Denmark and Estonia.
Major General Messenger said:
"It is still early days but operational commanders are currently pleased with the progress that has been made since the operation was launched this morning.
"There has been some resistance but it has been relatively light and the initial objective of surprising the Taliban with the time and place of the operation appears to have been achieved."
Major General Messenger said the key objectives of this phase of the operation was the built up population areas where troops were inserted via helicopters. Ground elements, linked up with these troops according to plan.
Soldiers from the 1 Royal Welsh Battle Group, the Coldstream Guards Battle Group (UK) and 1 Grenadier Guards Battle Group (UK), along with their Afghan Army partners and troops from Estonia were involved in clearing the area of the Chah E Anjir Triangle, as well as the area to the west of Babaji.
American and Afghan troops meanwhile led air and ground assaults in the much larger Marjah region where clearance operations are still ongoing.
Major General Messenger said that in the British area of operations the initial stage of the clearance phase had been completed. He said there has been some fighting but that this had been only sporadic adding:
"The Taliban have not been able to put up a coherent response. They appear confused and disorientated."
The speed of the clearance phase has allowed shuras with the local population, led by the Afghan National Army to take place. These have been successful, the locals know that ISAF and Afghan forces were coming and they have been welcoming, Major General Messenger said.
The elders have been assured that ISAF are here to stay and the early signs are that the local people are keen to engage.
This is key to the enduring success of the operation. Major General Messenger suggested that the Taliban have either left the area of melted into the local population, perhaps with a view to fighting another day. But the strategy to build up the influence of the Afghanistan Government and a permanent security presence from Afghan and ISAF forces in the area will limit the ability of insurgents to once again take control.
Major General Messenger said there have been a number of IED finds and a number of occasions where the local population have pointed out IEDS, in one case a lane through an IED field was pointed out.
Critical to the success of the operation so far, he added, was the use of ISAF air elements including the full array of ISTAR and fixed wing support. He said there were strict instructions on the use of air munitions which were being kept to an absolute minimum.
While there have been a relatively low number of insurgent casualties, Major General Messenger said he is not aware of any civilian casualties.
The current situation involves predominately Afghan forces engaging with local people in the population centres with other ISAF forces providing flanking protection on the outside.
The theme over the next 24 hours Major General Messenger said was that of consolidation, with troops getting a greater understanding of the terrain they are operating in and making sure the local people know that they are there to protect them.
Following this the stabilisation plan will be immediately enacted which sees an enduring security force of partnered Afghan and NATO forces, and the Afghan National Police, providing reassurance and presence for the local population.
Local governors and village elders were consulted before the operation started and will be an important part of the design of the subsequent security posture.
Summing up the operation so far Major General Messenger said:
"It appears that the Taliban have been forced into relative inactivity, although in the next few days they could get their breath back and have a go. There is also the residual IED threat.
"No one is saying the area is secure or the job is done but the feeling is that events last night have gone as well as they could have gone. So far so good.
"We have achieved tactical surprise, the approach of advance warning has gone well and the positive local dynamics are a very good sign but there's still a long way to go. This is all about winning the allegiance of the local people and you can't do that over night."
Stressing the point that seeking to engage the Taliban was never a key objective, Major General Messenger said:
"This is not and cannot be a campaign of us against them. It is about removing their ability to operate in the population and then building the Afghan capacity to deal with the challenges."
Major General Messenger said that the operation is of considerable significance to the overall campaign in Afghanistan, saying that these areas are known as bad areas and until we can show and enduring presence there then we can't move on to the next level of the campaign.