Sunday, February 7, 2010
By Andrew Johnson, Independant on Sunday
15,000 troops set to launch major assaults on Taliban strongholds in Helmand
The bloodiest fighting in the eight-year war in Afghanistan is expected to break out this week as British troops yesterday continued to prepare for what will be the largest air assault seen since the first Gulf war in 1991.
Military experts said the fighting was "imminent" after several days of so-called "shaping operations" in the Nad Ali area of Helmand and around the town of Marjah, which is seen as a "hub" of Taliban activity and a poppy-growing centre. "Shaping" is the moving of troops into position, with a cordon likely to be thrown up around Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people south-west of Lashkar Ghar.
The offensive is expected to see heavy casualties on both sides, with civilian casualties "inevitable". Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded forces in Afghanistan in 2006, said the Taliban would embed themselves among the population and are also using children to lay IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and to throw grenades in order to avoid snipers.
"There will be some heavy fighting," he said. "The Taliban will have carefully placed their positions among the population centres. They will know the area very well and will have prepared escape routes through tunnels, alleyways or buildings. They will fire on our troops and then run. There will be a lot of IEDs, a lot of snipers and a lot of hit and run. We will probably have to brace ourselves for a large number of casualties. They are increasingly using children to move IEDs and to throw grenades."
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