Major Offensive Kicks Off Today in Afghanistan
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
MUSA QALA, Afghanistan – Coalition and national troops battled terrorists in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, the eve of a sweeping anti-Taliban offensive by American-led forces – their biggest since the Islamic extremist government’s 2001 was ousted.
Some 26 terrorists were killed in an attack on mountain positions in Paktika province, the provincial governor, Akram Khelwak, said. Helicopter gunships and artillery fire supported ground troops; one Afghan police officer was wounded. Also in Paktika, four civilians died when rebel rockets slammed into their house, the provincial government said.
Meanwhile, in volatile Helmand province, American troops in sweltering heat built sand barriers and guard outposts around a small forward operating base in support of Operation Mountain Thrust. Soldiers around the base’s perimeter fired rounds from 119-millimeter howitzers into the vast desert.
“We do it so they know it’s here and they know it could be pretty bad for them,” said Lieutenant Colonel Chris Toner, commanding officer at the base in the Musa Qala district, 180 miles from the nearest permanent base.
“This terrain up here favors the defender,” he said. “I’m sure they know how many vehicles we have here, that we have artillery here, but that’s okay – I know what they know.”
Some 11,000 troops have deployed for the offensive in Helmand, one of four mountainous and desert-filled southern provinces being targeted. British, Canadian, and Afghan troops are joining American forces in the offensive, expected to start today.
Even as they prepared for the operation, American-led forces came under attack from the terrorists they aim to eliminate.
On Tuesday, suspected Taliban fighters ambushed a 10-vehicle combat logistics convoy in Helmand’s Sangin district, killing one American soldier and wounding two, and sparking a battle that left 12 terrorists dead or wounded, Colonel Toner said yesterday.
About 100 British troops quickly airdropped in to support the patrol, a coalition spokesman, Major Quentin Innis, said. The fighters fired on the convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, disabling three vehicles and forcing American troops to spend the night there, Colonel Toner said.
Another coalition soldier was killed in combat Tuesday in the eastern province of Kunar; the soldier’s nationality was not released, but American troops have been fighting alongside Afghan forces in the remote region, which borders Pakistan.
Afghanistan has been wracked by its bloodiest violence since the American led coalition invaded after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and toppled the Taliban government for harboring Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda supporters.
Operation Mountain Thrust seeks to squeeze Taliban fighters responsible for a spate of ambushes and suicide attacks against coalition forces and Afghan authorities. It will focus on southern Uruzgan and northeastern Helmand, where the military says most of the militant forces have gathered. Operations also will be conducted in the former Taliban strongholds of Kandahar and Zabul.
“This is not just about killing or capturing extremists,” an American spokesman, Colonel Tom Collins, said in Kabul, announcing the operation.
“We are going to go into these areas, take out the security threat, and establish conditions where government forces, government institutions, humanitarian organizations can move into these areas and begin the real work that needs to be done,” he said, referring to reconstruction efforts.
Limited operations began May 15 with attacks on Taliban command and control and support networks. According to American military and Afghan figures, about 550 people, mostly terrorists, have been killed since mid-May, along with at least nine coalition troops.
The offensive is the start of what the military says will be major and decisive anti-Taliban moves lasting through the summer. Reconstruction projects also will be done in the region.
Taking part in the operation will be about 2,300 American conventional and special forces, 3,300 British troops, 2,200 Canadians, about 3,500 Afghan soldiers, and coalition air support.