20 December, 2006

Operation Baaz Tsuka 5: strategy and tactics (Updated)

My tentative reading of the strategic aim of Operation Baaz Tsuka is that it is an attempt to consolidate NATO's political and military position in Kandahar, the Taliban's major Afghan power base, partly in order to be able to press ahead with the ISAF's development and assistance programme, and partly (mostly?) in preparation for forthcoming political developments. Despite persistent press reports to the contrary, over the summer and autumn, the military position in southern Afghanistan has been relatively stabilised: the British held Helmand; the Canadians held Kandahar, which has obviously been the most difficult of the provinces; and US forces did much to push the Taliban from eastern Afghanistan over the border into Pakistan. It is now a question of holding the Taliban at bay in order to provide a stable environment within which various political processes begin to unfold. Those Earl repolitical processes will almost certainly decide the immediate future of Afghanistan.

In brief, on the political front we can expect a series of jirgas, (meetings of tribal elders) at which agreements for the local administration of areas will be thrashed out between those concerned. The most important of these should be the Grand Jirga, due shortly between the Afghan and Pak governments, if they ever manage to stop exchanging insults for long enough to reach an agreement to meet. The great unknown in the jirgas will be the role of the Taliban. Certainly, the Taliban will be part of the jirgas and much may depend on the relative strength of their negotiating position. If Operation Baaz Tsuka can drive the Taliban into their safe bases across the border in western Pakistan the jirgas might well go better for all concerned than if they were still controlling ares of Kandahar.

Moving away from strategy to tactics, although Baaz Tsuka was announced as a British led operation, the reports of the first few days seem to indicate that it is, in fact, mainly a Canadian show. As with yesterday's reports, tactically the operation seems to be proceeding as a series of discrete actions, taking out whatever targets intelligence or opportunity present. This morning, the ISAF has reported an air strike against a command post and a successful attack on a terrorist leader. Over the coming days, we will probably see a stream of similar, apparently disjointed reports. Only later will overall progress become clear.

Other reports:

CNews: "Cdn troops launch tank, artillery barrage."

Canada.com: "Canadians join NATO offensive against Taliban."

Update @17:15

As many as 50 Taliban have been killed so far in air strikes on Taliban command posts say the Globe and Mail (Canada) and the Irish Examiner. They seem to be drawing on a report from Reuters in which a NATO spokesman is quoted as saying that

"We have cleared one large and two small villages of Taliban. We have killed a reasonable number of Taliban ... it is in the range of about 50,"
Reuters continues with the immortal line, " The Taliban could not be contacted immediately for comment." Oh well, the phones must have been down. They can always use ring-back.

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