Operation Medusa: A slide into open war in Afghanistan
Update 8 September: 4 Italian troops
A few months ago, I heard a very famous economist berate Bush and Blair for pursuing imperalist policies without imperial will. If you want to rule as an empire, he said, then you must act like one. And this would mean garrisoning the territory, launching punitive missions, razing towns, summoning colonists, handing out lands to your officials and generals, etablishing and administering institutions, conscripting the males to serve in your army and police, taxing the locals, building monuments to your conquest, creating a Ministry for Colonies at home and generally making the population feel the weight of your presence –for generations. He also suggested that taking on the drug war as part of NATO's mission was a recipe for massacre –of NATO troops. I can't help but hope that War Nerd soon issues his assessment.
If you have been scanning the headlines, 23 British and 5 Canadian troops have died since August 1st in Operation Medusa and scores have been wounded. Le Monde's Jean-Pierre Langellier pens an analysis. More can be found at the Guardian website.
A general declares that the British are running hot in Helmand Province
The faces of the 14 British soldiers killed in the crash of their Nimrod aircraft in Afghanistan on Monday 4 September were published on the front page of every newspaper in Britain –a media tribute on the par with the emotion caused by this “sad tragedy”, in the worlds of Tony Blair, the highest loss to the British Army since the Falklands conflict.
Contrary to what the Taliban has proclaimed, it was almost certainly an accident. In addition to the many credulous people in the Muslim world who will believe the propaganda, meant to raise the standing of the insurgents, the tragedy reflects the change in the type of NATO operations in Afghanistan and the limits the military materiel available to the 4,000-strong British contingent, deployed mainly to the Helmand Province.
For the last few weeks, the British contingent has been involved in a veritable war against the Taliban as evidenced by their casualties: 28 dead, of whom 14 were killed in action since June. 37 British soldiers have been killed since the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. It seems a distant memory when Defence Minister John Reid declared in April 2002 that British troops would withdraw from Afghanstan within three years at the latest, and without having fired a shot.
Of course, the rules of engagement have been modified since then without a formal acknowlegement from London. The activity of British troops is no longer confined to maintaining the security necessary for the rebuilding and development of the country. They are involved in more and more massive and bloody operations against a resolute and audacious enemy which now employs suicide bombings and who is strengthened by his alliance with the drug lords. In recognizing that its rules of engagement have been permanently changed and that its officers are no longer obliged to observe strict rules of self-defense, London has confirmed the slide into open war.
In the province of Helmand, the Army sought to pry off the hold of the Taliban by building five forward positions ahead of their main base, Camp Bastion. Each forward base immediately came under fire from the Taliban. With the span of a few weeks, these forward positions were on the receiving end of dozens of attacks, some so frequent as to prevent convoys from resupplying them.
The intensification of combat reveals the logistical difficulty in which the British army finds itself. We are running hot, certainly running hot. Can we cope? I pause. I say 'just'., admitted General Sir Richard Dannat, Commander-in-Chief, in a Monday interview with the Guardian.
A portion of ground matériel is unsuited to this type of combat. The Land Rovers and Jeeps poorly protect their occupants from bombings. Reconnaissance aircraft, insufficient in number, operate under stress. The Lynx helicopters can only fly at night because of the extreme daytime temperatures. To this is coupled the pressure created by the dual mission imposed on the army: Fight the insurrection and neutralize the warlords who control the opium.
These problems do not yet seem to jeopardize the legitimacy of these operations as seen from London. Most observers demand more equipment but underscore the progress made since the installation of a pro-Western regime in Kabul. A hasty military pullout would only worsen the situation, they say.
6 September 2006