Monday, February 8, 2010
Ruth Barnett, Sky News Online
British forces are preparing for their biggest operation in Afghanistan to clear Taliban fighters out of their last remaining urban stronghold.
Approximately 15,000 British, American and Afghan troops will be involved in Operation Moshtarak, which takes its name from the word "together".
Special forces units SAS and the SBS will join troops from the Grenadier Guards and the Royal Welsh Battle Group to make up the 4,000-strong UK contingent.
The troops have been getting into position over the past 48 hours, with civilians being warned to leave the area before the fighting starts.
Senior military figures have warned there will be casualties during the operation to secure control of central Helmand province.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, the director of communications for operations in Afghanistan explained why details of the offensive had been announced in advance.
"We want to give the Taliban in those areas a chance either to put down their weapons and choose not to fight and become part of legitimate society in those areas, or to fight," Major-General Gordon Messenger said.
Taliban that choose to fight will be "subject to overwhelming force and will be defeated," he added.
The military spokesman warned there could be British casualties.
"There's going to be clearance operations, and I think it's likely there will be a defence put up and there will be a fight," he said.
Operation Moshtarak will pit helicopter gunships, fighter jets and unmanned drones against the Taliban's ground tactics in the town of Marjah, where there are 2,000 insurgents.
Increasing numbers of Afghan soldiers are fighting alongside the British and Americans, Major-General Messenger said.
"Its the allegiance of the population and the security of the population which is really at the heart of this," he added.