‘NATO, Afghans to hold Taliban bastion forever’
LASHKAR GAH: NATO forces and their Afghan allies will hold territory seized from militants in an imminent major operation “forever”, the commander of British forces in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province said.
British and US forces are poised to take the town of Marjah, the last major bastion of Taliban control in the province, in what will be one of the biggest operations of the eight-year-old war.
Troops have raided Marjah in the past, but lacked the forces necessary to hold it. The commander of the nearly10, 000-strong British contingent in Helmand said this time they were coming to stay, under a “clear, hold, build” counter-insurgency strategy. “What’s the counter-insurgency? It is not about defeating the enemy in old fashioned victory; it is about winning the people,” Brigadier James Cowan said at his headquarters in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah on Monday.
The NATO-led force in Afghanistan now numbers more than114, 000 and is due to rise to nearly 150,000 this year under an escalation ordered in December by US President Barack Obama. The assault on Marjah will be the first operation to take advantage of those extra troops, which commanders say will give them the force they need to finally impose a lasting Afghan government presence over formerly Taliban-held areas. A plan endorsed at an international conference in London last month calls for the Afghan government to begin assuming responsibility for the security situation in the country. The military strategy calls for taking control of districts in opium-rich Helmand and neighbouring Kandahar provinces from fighters who seized them over the last several years. Commanders have flagged their intention to seize Marjah for months in the hope of persuading less-committed Taliban fighters to flee or lay down arms rather than stand and fight. reuters