US Intensifies Fight For Taliban Stronghold In Poppy Region

US Intensifies Fight For Taliban Stronghold In Poppy Region
October 29th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: US Intensifies Fight For Taliban Stronghold In Poppy Region

US Intensifies Fight For Taliban Stronghold In Poppy Region
Boston Globe
October 29, 2007 By Jason Straziuso, Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan - Days after Taliban fighters overran Musa Qala, a US commander pledged that Western troops would take it back. Nine months later, the town is still Taliban territory, a symbol of the West's struggles to control the poppy-growing south.
But a string of recent battles around Musa Qala, won overwhelmingly by American special forces, signals a renewed US focus on the symbolic Taliban stronghold.
An Afghan Army commander said yesterday that US and Afghan forces have taken over the area around the town and that Afghan commanders are holding talks with Musa Qala's tribal leaders to persuade them to expel the Arab, Chechen, and Uzbek foreign fighters who roam its streets alongside the Taliban militants.
US special forces soldiers accompanied by Afghan troops killed about 80 fighters during a six-hour battle outside Musa Qala on Saturday, the latest in a series of increasingly deadly engagements in Helmand Province - the world's largest poppy-growing region and the front line of Afghanistan's bloodiest fighting this year.
There have been at least five major battles in the area since Sept. 1, including Saturday's fighting, and special forces troops have killed more than 250 militants, according to coalition statements.
"Musa Qala is part of the overall concept here, denying the Taliban the ability to control northern Helmand," said Major Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the US-led coalition.
"Our goal is to stop them from accomplishing that . . . We're in Musa Qala and we're going to stay there."
The majority of Western forces in Helmand are British, though US special forces troops are also active in the province.
Taliban militants overran Musa Qala on Feb. 1, four months after British troops left the town following a contentious peace agreement that handed over security responsibilities to Afghan elders.
Days after the Taliban takeover a US military spokesman, Colonel Tom Collins, said NATO and Afghan forces would take back the town "at a time and place that is most advantageous."
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Eaton, a spokesman for British troops in Helmand, said that "nothing in Afghanistan is ever straightforward."
"You can't do everything simultaneously. That is not how a counterinsurgency works," Eaton said. "As [the commander of NATO's forces in Afghanistan] has said, we will deal with Musa Qala at a time of our choosing."
Eaton also did not rule out the possibility of future peace talks in the town, saying that the solutions to insurgencies are political.
Brigadier General Ghulam Muhiddin Ghori, a top Afghan Army commander in Helmand, said the foreign fighters are running training camps near Musa Qala to teach militants how to carry out suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
But he said no big military operations are being launched to overtake the town itself because of a fear of civilian casualties.
"Afghan and coalition forces have surrounded the Musa Qala district center.
"We have started negotiations with tribal leaders there to take over Musa Qala from the Taliban," Ghori said.
"The tribal leaders are also worried about these Taliban because the foreign fighters - Arabs, Chechens, Baluchs, and Uzbeks - they are in Musa Qala."
The latest Musa Qala battle began Saturday when Taliban insurgents attacked a combined US coalition and Afghan patrol with rockets and gunfire, prompting the combined force to call in attack aircraft, resulting in "almost seven dozen Taliban fighters killed," the US-led coalition said.
The coalition said four bombs were dropped on a trench line filled with fighters, resulting in most of the deaths.
It said there were no immediate reports of civilian casualties.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, Major General David Rodriguez, declined to talk about Musa Qala at a news conference in Kabul yesterday.
Speaking on a separate topic, he said it could take between 18 months and two years for Afghan units to be able to conduct major operations on their own.
Rodriguez said Afghan forces excel at small-unit tactics and coordinating with the Afghan people but still need to improve their command structure, the use of airpower, their logistics support, and medical capabilities.

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