Operation Moshtarak still continues slowly according to all reports out of Afghanistan's Helmand Province, with half of the Taliban either dead or gone. See video below.
According to the NYT-Asia Pacific, on the third day of Moshtarak, Taliban fighters in the area have dropped by about half. At one time, it was thought as many as 1,000 Taliban might be in the village of Marja at the start of the Operation last Saturday, but today's estimate is 400, with about one-fourth of them now dead and one-fourth fleeing the area - to unknown parts.
Among the Taliban fighters still in Marja, American and Afghan officials said, morale appears to be eroding fast, in part because the holdouts feel abandoned by their leaders and by local Afghans who are refusing to shelter them.Commanders believe the combat phase of the Operation will wind-up with three or four days.
“They cannot feed themselves, they cannot sustain themselves — that is what we are hearing,” Col. Scott Hartsell told a group of senior officers at a briefing near Marja that included Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO forces; and Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan minister of defense. “They are calling for help, and they are not getting any.”
It has been obvious since word of the coming Operation was purposefully leaked, that many in Marja welcomed the NATO forces, but they also feared for their lives at the hands of the Taliban:
A Marja tribal elder, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that a local shura — or council — had assigned 10 local Afghans to assist American and Afghan military units.A missile strike recently, inside Marja, killed eleven civilians. There is confusion about the strike as Military struggles to figure out what happened. First, American military said the rocket was designated for the house next the one actually hit. Yesterday, military sources said the rocket hit the house it was supposed to hit, but they were unaware that civilians were inside. The Marines on the ground, however, say they were "startled" by the missile strike, which a Company Commander requested earlier in the day, but permission was denied.
“They are here to help us, and it’s our duty to help them,” a tribal elder said in a telephone interview, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “They might kill me for telling you this.”
In the photo above, you can see the difficult terrain in Helmand Province. The series of canals and bridges were originally built by the U.S. military in the hopes of bringing agriculture to the area, which can also support livestock, fishing, forestry and horticulture. Instead, Afghans chose to grow poppies - from which 90% of the world's opium, used to make heroin is harvested, and provides 60% of Afghanistan's economy. An Afghan farmer, growing products to make cereals, makes only a pittance compared to a crop of poppies.
Here is a look from July 2009, at what it is like when the U.S. Marines show up in the Helmand - this time in the village of Nawa:
Before a battalion of U.S. Marines swooped into this dusty farming community along the Helmand River in early July, almost every stall in the bazaar had been padlocked, as had the school and the health clinic. Thousands of residents had fled. Government officials and municipal services were nonexistent. Taliban fighters swaggered about with impunity, setting up checkpoints and seeding the roads with bombs.The article on the Marines coming to Nawa in July 2009 is here. It is a very good read.
In the three months since the Marines arrived, the school has reopened, the district governor is on the job and the market is bustling. The insurgents have demonstrated far less resistance than U.S. commanders expected. Many of the residents who left are returning home, their possessions piled onto rickety trailers, and the Marines deem the central part of the town so secure that they routinely walk around without body armor and helmets.
"Nawa has returned from the dead," said the district administrator, Mohammed Khan.
Photo Credit: DOD US Army Photographer Staff Sgt. Gary A. Witte