Tal­iban step up at­tacks against U.S.-led forces in Afghan town

Cape Breton Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

MAR­JAH, Afghanistan (AP) — Tal­iban fight­ers stepped up coun­ter­at­tacks Mon­day against Marines and Afghan sol­diers in the mil­i­tant strong­hold of Mar­jah, slow­ing the al­lied ad­vance to a crawl de­spite Afghan gov­ern­ment claims that the in­sur­gents are bro­ken and on the run.

Tal­iban fight­ers ap­peared to be slip­ping un­der cover of dark­ness into com­pounds al­ready deemed free of weapons and ex­plo­sives, then open­ing fire on the Marines from be­hind U.S. lines.

Also Mon­day, NATO said five civil­ians were ac­ci­den­tally killed and two wounded by an airstrike when they were mis­tak­enly be­lieved to have been plant­ing road­side bombs in Kandahar prov­ince, east of the Mar­jah of­fen­sive.

The airstrike hap­pened one day af­ter 12 peo­ple, half of them chil­dren, were killed by two U.S. mis­siles that struck a house on the out­skirts of Mar­jah. Afghan of­fi­cials said Mon­day that three Tal­iban fight­ers were in the house at the time of the at­tack.

On the third day of the main at­tack on Mar­jah, Afghan com­man­ders spoke op­ti­misti­cally about progress in the town of about 80,000 peo­ple, the linch­pin of the Tal­iban lo­gis­ti­cal and opium poppy smug­gling net­work in the mil­i­tant-in­flu­enced south.

Brig. Gen. Sher Mo­ham­mad Zazai, com­man­der of Afghan troops in the south, told re­porters in nearby Lashkar Gah that there had been “ low re­sis­tance” in the town, adding “soon we will have Mar­jah cleared of en­e­mies.”

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Hanif At­mar said many in­sur­gent fight­ers had al­ready fled Mar­jah, pos­si­bly head­ing for Pak­istan.

In Mar­jah, how­ever, there was lit­tle sign the Tal­iban were bro­ken. In­stead, small, mo­bile teams of in­sur­gents re­peat­edly at­tacked U.S. and Afghan troops with rocket, ri­fle and rocket-pro­pelled gre­nade fire. In­sur­gents moved close enough to the main road to fire re­peat­edly at col­umns of mine-clear­ing ve­hi­cles.

At mid­day at least six large gun­bat­tles were rag­ing across the town and he­li­copter gun­ships couldn’t cover all the dif­fer­ent fight­ing lo­ca­tions.

Al­lied of­fi­cials have re­ported only two coali­tion deaths so far — one Amer­i­can and one Bri­ton killed Satur­day. There have been no re­ports of wounded. Afghan of­fi­cials said at least 27 in­sur­gents have been killed so far in the of­fen­sive.

None­the­less, the ha­rass­ment tac­tics and the huge num­ber of road­side bombs, mines and booby traps planted through­out Mar­jah have suc­ceeded in slow­ing the move­ment of al­lied forces through the town. Af­ter day­long skir­mishes, some Marine units had barely ad­vanced at all by sun­down.

As long as the town re­mains un­sta­ble, NATO of­fi­cials can­not move to the sec­ond phase — restor­ing Afghan gov­ern­ment con­trol and rush­ing in aid and pub­lic ser­vices to win over in­hab­i­tants who have been liv­ing un­der Tal­iban rule for years.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai ap­proved the as­sault on Mar­jah only af­ter in­struct­ing NATO and Afghan com­man­ders to be care­ful about harm­ing civil­ians.

“ This op­er­a­tion has been done with that in mind,” the top NATO com­man­der, U.S. Gen. Stan­ley McChrys­tal, said Mon­day.

De­spite those in­struc­tions, NATO said two U.S. rock­ets veered off tar­get by up to 600 yards and slammed into a home Sun­day out­side Mar­jah, killing 12 peo­ple. Six chil­dren were among the dead, a NATO mil­i­tary of­fi­cial con­firmed Mon­day, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the in­for­ma­tion had not been for­mally re­leased.

In Lon­don, Bri­tain’s top mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, Air Chief Mar­shal Sir Jock Stir­rup, called the mis­sile strike a “ very se­ri­ous set­back” to ef­forts to win the sup­port of lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, who are from the same Pash­tun eth­nic group as the Tal­iban.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.