Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Thin Red Line

The Taliban are causing a lot of trouble in Afghanistan's Helmand province. The British are coming.

Helmand is a growing problem:

Fighting raged between Taliban and Afghan forces in Helmand's Sangin district, where an official said the district's army base was the only area that had not fallen to the Taliban. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The spokesman for the Helmand governor, Omar Zwaq, said government troops were able to deliver supplies to those holed up inside mid-afternoon Tuesday. But, he added, there was no let-up in the fight for Sangin.

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf said the siege continued "and the government will soon announce their defeat."

Helmand is important to the Taliban. The lush southern province is home to endless poppy fields and the source of almost all the world's opium, which helps fund the insurgency. The head of Helmand's provincial council, Muhammad Kareem Atal, said about 65 percent of Helmand is now under Taliban control.

I've noted the problem that requires our urgent attention.

The article notes that the British will send advisors:
A British Ministry of Defense statement late Monday said "a small number of U.K. personnel" have been deployed to Helmand "in an advisory role." The U.K. has 450 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO's training mission.

I would like to quibble with this, however:

Officials have said casualties, as well as attrition and desertion, have taken a toll on numbers of government forces, while the Taliban strength seems never to diminish.

Yes, our side is naturally suffering more casualties as they carry the load without our conventional forces on the ground with them.

But never forget that our problems are always clearer than the enemies who suffers in the shadows that we don't see.

The Taliban also have the advantage of being able to reduce their attacks to levels that they can endure.

Which means that we really need to help the Afghan security forces--with advisers, logistics, direct help, and air support (recon, strike, transport, and medical evacuation)--take the initiative to go after the Taliban and so start to kill and defeat them at rates the enemy can't endure.

Afghan forces are reacting to retake the district capital Sangin. But remember this:

[Afghan defense minister] Stanekzai pleaded for patience, saying Afghan forces were fighting without the extensive array of tactical "enablers" from close air support and helicopters to surveillance assets that NATO troops had used when they were involved.

"Building an army is not the work of two years, three years or four years. It is a young army, it needs maturity," he said. "When the British and U.S. forces were there, how many enablers did they have? How many jets did they have, how many helicopters and how many do we have today?"

Coalition attention is being drawn south and having an effect:

In recent days, the Taliban assault has threatened to overrun Sangin, a major poppy-growing area in Helmand, raising alarm that Afghan forces were too overstretched to fend off the insurgency. The Taliban this week pronounced they had seized control of the district, but the claim was widely refuted by Afghan officials.

As the military rushed more troops to the area, Afghan officials on Wednesday asked for the international military coalition's help, including airstrikes.

Just before midnight, U.S. warplanes conducted two strikes in the vicinity of Sangin, the spokesman for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Col. Mike Lawhorn, said.

Afghan planes also struck Taliban strongholds in Sangin, killing 25 insurgents and wounding another 12, said the Afghan army spokesman in Helmand, Guam Rasoul Zazai.

Don't panic. Work the problem.

I'm so old, I remember when this was the "good war." Now it is just a vacation buzz kill. Keep it classy WaPo!