Part I of a multi-part dossier
Declan Walsh & Richard Norton Taylor in The Guardian, 29th Feb 2008:”After six years of US-led military support and billions of pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is “deteriorating” and President Hamid Karzai’s government controls less than a third of the country, America’s top intelligence official has admitted. Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control.
A big injection of foreign troops has failed to bring stability. The US has almost 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and – twice as many as in 2004 – while the UK has 7,700, mostly in Helmand. Another 2,200 US marines are due to arrive next month to combat an expected Taliban surge.
Nato commanders paint the suicide bombs and ambushes as signs of a disheartened enemy….But analysts believe the Taliban is successfully adapting the brutal guerrilla tactics that have served Iraqi insurgents so well….An Oxfam report yesterday said international and national security forces, as well as warlords, criminals and the Taliban, were perceived by ordinary Afghans as posing security threats .”
Elizabeth Rubin in the International Herald Tribune, 25th Feb 2008:”…I went to Afghanistan last fall with a question: Why, with all our technology, were we killing so many civilians in air strikes? As of September of last year, according to Human Rights Watch, NATO was causing alarmingly high numbers of civilian deaths ó 350 by the coalition, compared with 438 by the insurgents. The sheer tonnage of metal raining down on Afghanistan was mind-boggling: a million pounds between January and September of 2007, compared with half a million in all of 2006.
After a few days, the first question sparked more: Was there a deeper problem in the counterinsurgency campaign?
…The reality is that bombs are only as accurate as the intelligence on the ground ó and since 9/11, the U.S. and NATO have used air power as a substitute for ground troops.
By now, seven years of air strikes and civilian casualties, humiliating house searches and arbitrary detentions have pushed many families and tribes to revenge. The Americans then see every Afghan in those pockets of recalcitrance as an enemy.
…The next day brought another brief firefight… There were more bomb drops and refusals to drop bombs, and then Becky, everyone’s favorite Apache pilot, swept in. Not only did she offer the comforting voice of a woman seeping right into their ears, but Becky was one of the most aggressive shooters. She flew up and down the canyon walls seeking out and rocketing insurgents. We heard them on the radio again boasting about retreating to safety under fire. They talked about the strike in Landigal that they thought might have killed Azizullah ‘a real bad guy,’ the radio operator told me.
[Capt] Kearney [173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team] was watching a crow flying above us. ‘Taliban are right,’ he said. ‘Like they said yesterday, follow the birds, they follow the Americans. I wish I was made as strong as haj’ ó their nickname for insurgents. ‘They were balls to do what they did. And guess what? I’m not gonna lie. They won.’
Henry MacDonald writing in the Guardian, 16th February 2008: “…Michael Semple, a UN official arrested by the Afghan government on Christmas Day last year, said he was confident that most Taliban-linked insurgents could be absorbed into Afghanistan’s reconciliation process.
In his first interview with a British news organisation since he was forced to leave Afghanistan by the government of President Hamid Karzai, Semple defended his role in talking to elements linked to the Taliban. Until 2003 he had been a senior political adviser to the British embassy in Kabul….’There is no purely military solution to the current insurgency. There isn’t a serious actor in Afghanistan who says the only way forward is to fight your way out’.”
Adrian Hamilton in The Independent, 8th Feb 2008, “As the defence ministers of Nato meet in Vilnius, and Condi Rice and David Miliband descend on Afghanistan as part of their effort to shore up the Nato campaign in the country, someone ought to be asking the question: “What the hell is a North Atlantic alliance doing in a north Asian country at all?”
What might have seemed a relatively straightforward military venture to overthrow a government and rid the country of al-Qa’ida and its protectors, the Taliban, has now taken on a quite different hue. Having forced regime change, Nato is now there as occupiers, charged with not just fighting the resurgent Taliban, but ensuring security, rooting out drugs production and supporting local civilian rulers whom the alliance favours and removing those it disapproves of.
When President Karzai rounded on the British actions in Helmand recently and rejected Britain and America’s candidate for the post of UN representative in Afghanistan, his objections were treated as just the outpouring of a local politician fearful of the loss of his own power. He should have been listened to. What he was saying was that Britain’s intervention to remove the local governor ñ however unpleasant and corrupt he may have been ñ had changed the rules of the game.
If the object of the exercise was to defeat the Taliban, then the Western alliance should have kept with the local chieftains Kabul knew could manage security in a country where central control barely extended beyond the capital. Once we started to intervene in local politics because of the Western desire to suppress the opium trade and to create a ‘clean’ democracy in its own image, and once we decided to impose a UN representative tasked with ordering political governance in the country, then you made the West part of the political game not an umpire of it.
Seamus Milne in The Guardian, 5th February 2008, “Public cynicism towards Britain’s first co-occupation of a Muslim country in the US’s ‘war on terror’ can only be deepened by the Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s public denunciation last month of the British military role in the south – which had, he said, led to the return of the Taliban….Karzai was, after all, installed by the US after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001 and subsequently confirmed in bogus US-orchestrated elections three years later. If even someone regarded as a US-British stooge, whose writ famously barely runs outside Kabul, is reduced to protesting in public that his western protectors are doing more harm than good, that not only makes a mockery of the idea that Afghanistan is an independent state. It also strongly suggests this is a man who recognises that the occupation forces may not be around indefinitely – and he may have to come to more serious terms with the local forces that will.
For all the insistence by Britain’s defence secretary, Des Browne, and others that this is a ‘commitment which could last decades’, there is no doubt that armed resistance to foreign occupation is growing and spreading. Nato forces’ own figures show that attacks on western and Afghan troops were up by almost a third last year, to more than 9,000 ‘significant actions’. And while Nato claims that 70% of incidents took place in the southern Taliban heartlands, the independent Senlis Council thinktank recently estimated that the Taliban now has a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan, arguing that ‘the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when’. Meanwhile, US-led coalition air attacks reached 3,572 last year, 20 times the level two years earlier, as more civilians are killed by Nato forces than by the Taliban and suicide bombings climbed to a record 140. The Kabul press last week predicted a major Taliban offensive in the spring.
The intensity of this armed campaign reflects a significant broadening of the Taliban’s base, as it has increasingly become the umbrella for a revived Pashtun nationalism on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, as well as for jihadists and others committed to fighting foreign occupation.
Jerome Starkey in The Independent, 4th Feb 2008, “Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.
The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown’s pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: ‘Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people.’
…The memory stick revealed that $125,000 (£64,000) had been spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British agents were paying the Taliban”.
Simon Jenkins in The Times, 3rd Feb 2008,”Kabul is like Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. It swarms with refugees and corruption while an upper crust of well-heeled contractors, consultants and NGO groupies careers from party to party in bullet-proof Land Cruisers. Spin doctors fighting a daily battle with the truth have resorted to enemy kill-rates to imply victory, General Westmorelandís ploy in Vietnam.
This is a far cry from Britainís 2001 pledges of opium eradication, gender-awareness and civic-governance classes. After 87 deaths and two years of operations in Helmand, the British Army cannot even secure one dam.
….To have set one of the worldís most ancient and ferocious people on the warpath against both Kabul and Islamabad takes some doing. But western diplomacy has done it. Now must begin the agonising process of escaping that appalling mistake”.
Matthew Parris in The Times, 2nd Feb 2008:”Forgive me for writing like this yet again, of Afghanistan. None of us can know whether the situation is beyond retrieval but we surely sense that we British – never mind about America, or Italy, or Canada, Germany or France – are at the limit of what we can achieve by force. It is no good sending any more troops: we haven’t any to spare, and the force we already send to Helmand province is overstretched…
Three recent reports – most worryingly one from Oxfam – have painted a picture of a failing state. Inch by inch we are being edged into keeping thousands of troops permanently parked in a barbarous place, in the open-ended support of a puppet government led by a man who wears elegantly tailored clothes and speaks nice English but whose writ hardly runs…We are failing in Afghanistan, and while we fail, real British servicemen die”.
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 30th January 2008:”The west’s Afghan adventure is now devoid of coherent strategy. Soldiers are dying, the opium trade is booming and aid lies undistributed. Command and control of the war against the Taliban is slipping from the most bizarre western occupying force since the fourth Crusade to a tight cabal around the Afghan ruler, Hamid Karzai, who is fighting to retain a remnant of authority in his own capital…This so-called war on terror has filled the pockets of those profiting from it. It has killed thousands, immiserated millions and infringed the liberty of hundreds of millions. The only rough justice it has delivered is to ruin the careers of those who propagated it.”
Eric Margolis (Canadian journalist) on 28th January 2008:”In Europe and Asia, most people regard the Afghanistan conflict as a 19th century-style colonial war over future oil pipeline routes, and NATOís role there the result of severe arms-twisting by Washington…The [Manley] reportís claim that Afghanistanís US-imposed regime is ‘democraticí is absurd. CIA ‘asset’ Hamid Karzai was installed by Washington and is kept in power by US troops and a stream of cash payoffs to drug-dealing tribal chiefs. His rigged `electioní was supervised by US troops and bought with $100 bills.
Afghanistanís so-called `national armyí is made up of US-paid mercenaries. The ‘army’ does not need more training, as Manley claims. It needs loyalty to a legitimate national government ñ which does not exist.
Half of Afghanistanís population, the Pashtun tribes (the source of the Taliban religious movement), has been largely excluded from political power. Until included, there will be no stability, never mind democracy. But Washington and Ottawa, have painted themselves into a corner by so demonizing Taliban and making enemies of the Pashtun (half of Afghanistanís population), that overt negotiations with the movement or its growing number of allies is impossible.
Michael Evans in The Times, 26th January 2008: “In an outburst to journalists on Thursday, the Afghan leader [Hamid Karzai] claimed that British forces had failed in their mission in Helmand province…. The Afghan leader claimed that Helmand had been under Kabulís control before the British troops arrived on the scene, and that the province was now overrun with Taleban. …
Asked if he [Gordon Brown] would accept that the British presence allowed the Taleban back in, the Prime Ministerís spokesman replied: ‘Of course we wouldnít accept that.’ He said: ‘We are working alongside the Afghan Government in order to drive out the Taleban from Helmand. Our strength in Afghanistan has been to work with the Afghan Government and to extend the authority of the Afghan Government throughout the province to allow economic and political development. It is to that aim that our Armed Forces have suffered losses and shown great bravery and determination.’
The new tension has been caused by differences between the Kabul Government and the British troops on the ground over Mr Karzaiís choice of local officials to run the Helmand administration and the security forces.”
Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 17th January 2008: “Deepening divisions within Nato over its military operations in Afghanistan emerged yesterday after Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said America’s allies did not know how to fight insurgencies….However, Gates’s remarks reflect increasing tension and frustration within Nato about how to cope with the Taliban insurgency. Ironically, given the concerns expressed by Gates, British military commanders have accused the US of heavy-handed tactics, including aerial bombing – a tactic which frequently leads to civilian casualties – and have suggested that is the result of America’s lack of experience in counterinsurgency warfare.”
John Pilger in the New Statesman, 10th Jan 2008:”The truth about the ‘good war’ is to be found in compelling evidence that the 2001 invasion, widely supported in the west as a justifiable response to the 11 September attacks, was actually planned two months prior to 9/11 and that the most pressing problem for Washington was not the Taliban’s links with Osama Bin Laden, but the prospect of the Taliban mullahs losing control of Afghanistan to less reliable mujahedin factions…known as the Northern Alliance….
The moment in history’ was a secret memorandum of understanding the mullahs had signed with the Clinton administration on the pipeline deal. However, by the late 1990s, the Northern Alliance had encroached further and further on territory controlled by the Taliban, whom, as a result, were deemed in Washington to lack the ‘stability’ required of such an important client. It was the consistency of this client relationship that had been a prerequisite of US support, regardless of the Taliban’s aversion to human rights…
Acclaimed as the first ‘victory’ in the ‘war on terror’, the attack on Afghanistan in October 2001 and its ripple effect caused the deaths of thousands of civilians who, even more than Iraqis, remain invisible to western eyes….
The British military have played an important part in this violence, having stepped up high- altitude bombing by up to 30 per cent since they took over command of Nato forces in Afghan istan in May 2006. This translated to more than 6,200 Afghan deaths last year. In December, a contrived news event was the ‘fall’ of a ‘Taliban stronghold’, Musa Qala, in southern Afghan istan. Puppet government forces were allowed to “liberate” rubble left by American B-52s.
What justifies this? Various fables have been spun – ‘building democracy’ is one. ‘The war on drugs” is the most perverse. When the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001 they had one striking success. They brought to an abrupt end a historic ban on opium production that the Taliban regime had achieved. A UN official in Kabul described the ban to me as ‘a modern miracle’. The miracle was quickly rescinded.
As a reward for supporting the Karzai ‘democracy’, the Americans allowed Northern Alliance warlords to replant the country’s entire opium crop in 2002. Twenty-eight out of the 32 provinces instantly went under cultivation. Today, 90 per cent of world trade in opium originates in Afghan istan. In 2005, a British government report estimated that 35,000 children in this country were using heroin…
Jon Boone in the Financial Times
2 January 2008:”British plans to equip tribes to defend their villages against the Taliban will not work in the region of Afghanistan in which UK forces are responsible, the top US general commanding Nato forces in the country warned on Wednesday…Last month Gordon Brown, British prime minister, said the UK, which has responsibility for the southern province of Helmand, would increase its support for ‘community defence initiatives, where local volunteers are recruited to defend homes and families modelled on traditional Afghan arbakai’.
But General Dan McNeill, commander of the International Security and Assistance Force, on Wednesday said …’My information, from studying Afghan history, is that arbakai works only in Paktia, Khost and the southern portion of Paktika and itís not likely to work beyond those geographic locations’.”
Thomas Harding and Tom Coghlan in the Daily Telegraph, 26th December 2007:”An intelligence source said: ‘The SIS officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia. The British would also provide ‘mentoring’ for the Taliban. The disclosure comes only a fortnight after the Prime Minister told the House of Commons: ‘We will not enter into any negotiations with these people’…. MI6’s meetings with the Taliban took place up to half a dozen times at houses on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley, to the north-east of Helmand’s main town. The compounds were surrounded by a force of British infantry providing a security cordon”.
Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times Online, 15th December 2007: ” From December 2006 until now, British Commonwealth Office staff and the British task force stationed in Helmand have tried their level best to make Helmand ‘civilized’. They have opened schools, rebuilt mosques, dug wells, launched programs for capacity building and many other development projects in coordination with tribal elders. But this has not delivered the expected results, as the population remains obsessed to drive out the foreigners”.
From Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 12th December 2007: “Musa Qala has ‘fallen’ to coalition troops and the Mercian Regiment’s nine dead have been remembered at Westminster Abbey. Surely it is time to reassess the British operation in southern Afghanistan… It is now a year and a half since British briefers in Kabul were giving absurdly optimistic forecasts about the ease of suppressing the Taliban…The whole Helmand expedition has from the start been a suicide mission. Since last year, 81 British troops have died and untold numbers been maimed for life. The United Nations calculates that violent incidents have risen by 20-30% since the British took over Nato command, with as many as 5,000 local deaths. The policy of using high-altitude bombers did not cease, despite the pleadings of Afghanistan’s elected ruler, Hamid Karzai, who knows that every bomb recruits 10 Taliban.
This week Musa Qala was attacked with B52s before the Americans and British entered what was left of the town. Who knows how many civilians have died? As the Americans found with Falluja in Iraq, there is no way you can “conquer” an urban settlement unless you intend to colonise it for ever. You can only stun it into temporary submission and long-term antipathy. There is no military solution in Afghanistan, not even a military start to a solution. Can Brown not see this?”
From Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 21st November 2007: “Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid, the insurgents [in Afghanistan], driven out by the US invasion in 2001, now control ‘vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries’ …At least 1,200 civilians have been killed so far this year, it [Senlis Council] adds – half in operations by international or Afghan forces. There are four times as many air strikes by international forces in Afghanistan than in Iraq, Oxfam notes.
From Raymond Whitaker in The Independent on Sunday, 11th November 2007: “We have taken big strides already,” said the British military attachÈ in Kabul, Colonel Angus Loudon. “I believe we can make a significant impact in the next 24 months if we keep up the pressure. But it will be a long campaign, requiring patience at home.”
Matthew Taylor in the Guardian, 17th October 2007: “They [Royal Anglian Regiment] have been involved in serious fighting pretty much constantly,” said Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo, who was based in Afghanistan alongside the Anglian…It is not the only regiment to have suffered heavy casualties, but the homecoming underlined the difficulties British soldiers have faced in the increasingly ferocious fight against the Taliban”.
Julian Borger and Declan Walsh in the Guardian, 15th October 2007: “As British troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, the military presence in southern Afghanistan is to be bolstered in the next few months by the deployment of the Parachute Regiment and new Eurofighter/Typhoon fighter-bombers.
At the same time, however, British officials have concluded that the Taliban is too deep-rooted to be eradicated by military means.”
Jason Burke writing in the Observer, 14th October 2007: “Nato partners such as Germany, the Netherlands and France are tiring of a war that British commanders admit may take ’30 years to win’. British ministers have suggested talking to the Taliban – something President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has offered to do. Earlier this month he made a personal plea to Mullah Omar to negotiate and stop ‘the destruction of [his] country’.”
From Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 6th Octber, 2007: “For the first time since 1945, all three regular battalions of the Parachute Regiment – about 2,000 troops – will be deployed for combat. The Eurofighter/Typhoon, equipped with new missiles for a ground attack role, will be deployed for the first time in a hostile mission. New Merlin helicopters from an RAF squadron formed this week will also be sent to the region. The plan, being drawn up by the chiefs of staff, reflects the Government’s concern over the failure to win a decisive victory against the Taliban….Tomorrow marks the sixth anniversary of the first American and British missile strikes on Afghanistan in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on the US, yet Nato-led forces are no closer to beating the Taliban, Nato commanders believe.”
From Max Hastings in The Guardian, 28th August 2007: “I wish I felt more confident that shifting another 2,000 British troops from Basra to Helmand will prove decisive in establishing some semblance of peace there. Most likely, however, a year from now we shall be pretty much where we are today, neither winning nor losing. That is pretty much how things were in Afghanistan throughout the century in which the British last fought in the region. This time around, however, it must be doubtful whether the patience of the western democracies will last so long. It is not enough that the cause is just if an outcome remains so elusive.
From Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 23rd August 2007: “British soldiers in Afghanistan are being supplied with a new “super weapon to attack Taliban fighters more effectively…the ‘enhanced blast’ weapon is based on thermobaric technology used in the powerful bombs dropped by the Russians to obliterate Grozny, the Chechen capital, and in US ‘bunker busters’. Combined heat and pressure kill people over a wide area by sucking the air out of lungs and destroying internal organs….”.
From Declan Walsh and Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 10th August 2007: “Unnamed British officers were quoted yesterday as saying the US had caused the lion’s share of casualties in their area…The newspaper estimated the number of civilian casualties this year in Helmand at close to 300 – most caused by foreign and Afghan forces, not the Taliban. Human rights and aid groups estimate that 230 Afghan civilians were killed throughout the south of the country last year. Nato officers admit they are troubled by the high toll. One medic told the Guardian that during a 14-day period last month, British soldiers rescued 30 Afghan civilians wounded in bombings or firefights – half of whom were children.”
From Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, 8th August 2007: The British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, is building himself an embassy to compare with America’s in Baghdad and has forecast a British military presence of 30 years….In the provinces, the Americans are running a guerrilla army out of Bagram, trying to kill as many “Taliban” or “al-Qaida” as possible, while the British heroically re-enact the Zulu wars down in Helmand. ….Then there is the bombing of Pashtun villages for sheltering the Taliban. Thousands of civilians have died as a result, inducing hostility to occupying forces and a desire for revenge that recruits thousands to the cause of killing western troops. But soldiers sent to fight the Taliban have been ill-equipped and outgunned and needed air support….
From Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 3rd August 2007: “During the six months they were establishing the British military presence, soldiers from 16 Air Assault Brigade fired 500,000 rounds of small arms and more than 13,000 mortars and artillery shells, in the most intense fighting since the Korean war. Lt Mallet described their conditions as ‘oppressively hot’ and said they were up against an ‘extremely resilient enemy’.
From Thomas Harding and Graeme Wilson in the Daily Telegraph 16th July 2007:”With more fighting expected during the summer, officers are bracing themselves for the figure to double in the last three months of their tour, meaning that the battalion could be without an entire combat company. It will also mean that the infantry could exceed the Second World War casualty rate of 11 per cent experienced at the height of the conflict….Military commanders are now worried about the dangers raised by a high casualty rate. ‘There are two issues,’ said an officer who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘Firstly, there is the morale component with teams being broken up when individuals are shipped home. Secondly, there is a reduction in available troops where if you lose 70-odd soldiers with two months of the tour remaining then this will have a real effect on our ability to conduct operations.’
From Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian 21st June 2007: “In one of the bloodiest days since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, at least 24 people were killed on Sunday by a suspected suicide bomber in the centre of Kabul and at least seven children were killed by US air strikes on a school near the Pakistan border. Yesterday, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, Acbar, which represents nearly 100 aid and humanitarian organisations, roundly condemned foreign, particularly US, troops for the ‘disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force’…..
‘We’ve got to stop talking about poppy eradication when British soldiers need the cooperation of Afghans, many of whom are poppy farmers,’ General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the army, recently told the independent Iraq Commission inquiry in a swipe at the US. Yet the poppy harvest, allowed to reach record levels, also helps fill the coffers of the Taliban and feeds corruption. Without a huge injection of foreign aid – and there is no evidence that anyone wants to provide it – it may not be long before British commanders start saying:’Let’s get out of Afghanistan as well as Iraq’.”
From Michael Smith in the Sunday Times, 27th May 2007:”The one-legged Taliban commander [Mullah Dadullah] whose death was hailed as a coup for the coalition forces in Afghanistan was killed in an attack by British troops rather than Americans and Afghans as previously claimed….A reconnaissance team in a Supacat 6×6 all-terrain vehicle moved in to watch the compound and work out how best to attack it. It was decided that an airstrike by itself would not be certain of killing Dadullah so the rest of the squadron, in two Chinook helicopters, was called in. Alerted by the noise, the Taliban defenders began shooting at the helicopters …the element of surprise was lost and a four-hour battle ensured. The sky lit up with tracer bullets and rocket-propelled grenade fire as the Taleban, although fewer than 20 in number, put up spirited resistance before being overwhelmed.”
From Christina Lamb in the Sunday Times March 2007: “He [David Kilcullen, chief strategist on counterterrorism in the US State Department] pulls no punches over the difficulties that British troops are facing. ‘I work in Iraq and various other theatres in the war on terror and have seen the enemy up close and I can tell you this enemy we face in Afghanistan is the toughest we face anywhere’.”
From Kim Sengupta in The Independent, February 2007: “A central element of British policy in Afghanistan, the Musa Qala agreement, appeared to be in tatters last night after Taliban forces overran the town it is named after. They bulldozed and burnt its administrative centre, and abducted opponents. An exodus was under way from the town in Helmand province with people abandoning their homes in fear of air strikes amid reports that Taliban fighters were digging trenches as British and Nato forces moved into the area…”
From Declan Walsh & Richard Norton Taylor in The Guardian, January 2007: “The commandos raced towards the [Jugroom] fort walls, tumbled out of the armoured track vehicles and started the ground assault. But the besieged Taliban fighters proved resilient, and sprayed the Z Company marines with gunfire. Within minutes the British force suffered four casualties, mostly gunshot wounds. The commandos leapt back into their Vikings and retreated to the far bank of the river…”
From Jude Sheerin in the Scotsman in January 2007: ìBritish troops fighting in southern Afghanistan are embroiled in some of the most intense combat involving UK forces since the Second World Warî.
From Christina Lamb in The Sunday Times in October 2006: ì British commanders in Helmand admit that they have been taken by surprise by the Talibanís numbers and sophistication. ìIn every contact they lose maybe 15 or 20 yet they just keep coming,î said Colonel Charlie Knaggs, commander of the Helmand taskforce. The greatest shock for me in the two-hour firefight in which I found myself in the village of Zumbelay ó south of Sangin ó was the cunning employed by the Taliban to outflank and surround us. …