Monday, February 15, 2010

Operation Moshtarak: Gen Stanley McChrystal visits subdued former Taliban capital

Thomas Harding, The Telegraph

Three days earlier we had been crouching against walls and treading with trepidation down a road that carried the threat of hidden bombs with just our body armour for protection.

Today the American general who might one day be hailed as the man who defeated the Taliban strode through the former insurgent capital of Showal dressed only his fatigues.

It was, said an accompanying British general, “the end of the beginning” in the fight against the Taliban. Gen Stanley McChrystal had his own words. Helmand had “turned the corner” in its four year war, he told The Daily Telegraph.

For Showal it was by a distance the most remarkable day in its history.

In sub-zero temperatures shortly after dawn less than a dozen of us had made our way to the Taliban flag flying on top of a disused crane at the northern tip of the town.

After three days of pushing patiently north checking for hidden bombs we finally reached the site that had been the pinnacle of Taliban dominance over a wide area and their centre for bomb-making and arms deals.

Two years of brutal rule dropped away when the Afghan soldier, Private Aziz Watandosd, cut down the white flag of the Taliban that had defiantly flown from a disused crane and replaced it with the red, green and black national flag.

There were a few handshakes and back-slaps with pictures taken of the fallen insurgent emblem before the deadline for another patrol forced us back to base.

“We shall forever remember this as the day when we ended the insurgent’s rule in this area,” said an Afghan officer.

But we were unaware of the tremendous effect that the simple act would have on generals and politicians.

As word got out, by mid-morning a stream of helicopters almost replicating the vast armada that carried us in on the air assault on Saturday, ferried in brigadiers and deputy governors who soon shrank into the background as governors, generals and top ranking ministers arrived.

Moving en masse, surrounded haphazardly by British, American, French and Afghan troops, Afghanistan’s elite brazenly moved up the same road that we had so painstakingly inched our way up.

At one point the local population spotted Governor Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, and shook his hand, smiling openly for what must have been the first time in two years. They also stopped to talk to the both the defence and interior ministers who belatedly joined the parade.

A sense of liberation took hold as Afghans grinned and sometimes waved at the melee heading towards the national flag now fluttering over the crane.

“The operation’s gone very well,” Gen McChrystal told me as we passed a hole made in a compound wall by the SAS as they apprehended a Taliban suspect hours before Moshtarak began. “Of course you were here up close from the beginning so you would know”. The Telegraph was on the first wave of helicopters into Showal.

The American commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan said the population was clearly grateful for freedom after they had been “effectively occupied while in their own country”.

But had the corner been turned in defeating the insurgency? “I am not prepared to make pronouncement on the country but they have clearly turned the corner here,” Gen McChrystal told me as we continued what was to be an eight minute walk up the road. “If we make it durable then I think it will become contagious.”

“What an insurgency needs is to undercut the government legitimacy and win popular support but what you have had here is an uprising against the insurgency. If I was an insurgent I would have to recalculate the future.”

He also had praise for the British effort. “They have fought in Helmand courageously for a number of years now and the sacrifice that Britain and a lot of individual soldiers have made is extraordinary.”

For the full article read here

1 comment:

  1. It was a different story on Sky News earlier tonight.
    Afghans then said they didn't trust ISAF forces or the Afghan National Army and that the Taliban would soon return.
    I know who I believe.