Petraeus: Marjah offensive is first step in Afghanistan campaign

The Marjah offensive is the start of an Afghanistan campaign that will last 12 to 18 months, US Gen. David Petraeus said Sunday. How is the offensive faring so far?

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Afghans walk in front of US Marines during an operation in Marjah, Helmand Province on Sunday. It has been more than a week since the offensive began in Marjah.
Cliff Owen/AP/File
Gen. David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, addressed the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on Jan. 21. He addressed the tenacity of the Taliban on NBC’s 'Meet the Press' on Sunday, saying, 'There’s tough fighting going on, without question.'

It’s been more than a week since the offensive began in Marjah in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province. What assessments can be made so far?

This is considered the biggest operation that the United States has launched in Afghanistan since 2001. The goal: to clear the Taliban insurgency from its most significant stronghold in Helmand Province and then establish an Afghan government presence.

In a statement Sunday, NATO acknowledged that Taliban insurgents had displayed “determined resistance” in parts of Marjah, but it also said that the overall offensive is “on track,” according to the Associated Press.

Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as head of US Central Command, also addressed on Sunday the tenacity of the Taliban.

“They’re formidable,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There’s tough fighting going on, without question.”

But Petraeus sought to put the offensive in a larger context, saying that it’s “just the initial operation of what will be a 12- to 18-month campaign.”

“We’ve spent the last year getting the inputs right in Afghanistan, getting the structures and organizations necessary for a comprehensive civil-military campaign,” he said.

In December, President Obama announced a surge of 30,000 additional US troops for Afghanistan. Some of those troops are now fighting in Marjah.

Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the commander of Marines in Helmand, is confident that the coalition forces will control all key roads and bazaar areas by the end of the month, according to The Washington Post.

“We’re moving steadily forward,” he said.

Local people are able to move around more freely as routes are cleared of bombs, says the Los Angeles Times, citing the military.

A report by Al Jazeera indicated that the Taliban’s fight might be on the wane. “What we are hearing from Afghan sources is that they believe that the Taliban who have been fighting and putting up their heavy resistance in the north and east of Marjah are running low on ammunition,” said James Bays of the TV news network.

A Taliban spokesman, however, disputed the information, saying it was propaganda put out by Afghan forces. Afghan forces have taken a key role in the Marjah offensive, outnumbering international forces by a ratio of 3 to 2, according to US military officials.

According to figures compiled by the Associated Press, the number of international troops killed in the operation is 13. At least one Afghan soldier has been confirmed dead. And intelligence reports suggest that more than 120 insurgents have died, senior Marine officers say.

“They’ll be tough,” Petraeus said on “Meet the Press” about US losses. “These types of efforts are hard, and they’re hard all the time.”

The civilian death toll from the operation is now at least 16, according to the Associated Press. This includes 12 who were killed in a US airstrike during the second day of the operation.

On Saturday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai addressed in parliament the issue of civilian casualties.

“Regarding the civilian casualties in airstrikes and operations, the NATO and coalition forces have tried to conduct their operations carefully and responsibly to avoid civilian casualties,” he said. “As a result, civilian casualties have decreased. Our goal is to completely avoid the civilian casualties.”


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