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A show of strength

Mark Urban | 13:01 UK time, Monday, 7 December 2009

NOW ZAD, HELMAND PROVINCE - For several days past we have accompanied US marines as they fought their way through this town.

The exact sequence of events and story of our experiences will be the subject of an extended special report on Newsnight in the future.

However in outline what happened was that 1,000 US marines with British, Afghan, and Danish support, fought to clear insurgents from what was once one of this province's thriving district centres, but which has for the past three years been abandoned by its 20,000 plus inhabitants.

It was a very large set piece operation that played to all of the strengths that the US marines could bring - heliborne landings, air cover; massed drones for surveillance, tanks, and an extraordinary level of engineer support for troops who had to assault through an "IED belt" of hundreds of devices laid by the insurgents.

I wonder at the end of it all though if the local insurgents had not also shown what they were capable of.

The operation's commanders were hopeful of cutting off the insurgents' lines of withdrawal, pinning them in place, and fighting them.

Certainly the coalition troops succeeded in carrying out their complex tasks without loss on their own side.

They found a large number of IEDs and other weapons in caches uncovered during house to house clearances.

They also detained a number of individuals they had been looking for.

The insurgents however, did what any good guerrilla force will do when confronted with such a show of strength - they melted away.

In most places they were not willing to engage the marines on the terms of their own choosing.

Furthermore within a day of the operation starting, the Taliban were trying to get used to the re-drawn battle lines and start setting new IEDs.

On the second day of the operation, marines discovered two Afghans blown up by their own bomb as they tried to set it on one the lanes cleared the day before.

The terms of the fight in Now Zad have been changed dramatically by the events of the past week.

But the question of what exactly this large set piece operation achieved is one requires a longer term view.

It is time now for us to start the journey back home with all our material.

Certainly what we saw in Now Zad heralds a new phase of this campaign, as US forces start their new build up.

In many ways what we have seen may be the prototype for wider operations aimed at clearing Taliban strongholds.


  • Comment number 1.


    We still think Johnnie Foreigner is rubbish, in our palaces and military academies - it seems.

    Just as our fighters, knowing their homes are not in danger, return confused and traumatised, so, by the same token, the fighters in Afghanistan, feeling RIGHTLY their very homeland is under threat from Western aliens, fresh from the land of booze, brothels and banks, fight with a mental and physical steel, that is indefatigable.

    If the Germans had swarmed our strongholds, in these islands, would not Churchill have dispersed our resistance forces and kit to more places than a Hun could count? Had Gerry come, we were not going to roll over, so why should Johnnie Foreigner? It's going to be a long, stupid war Tony, and it will earn us contempt and hate as never before. but, of course, you were C of E then - I suppose that helps?

  • Comment number 2.

    with the world closing in on Blair and his untruths unravelling wouldn't any sane person strike him off the lecture circuit with a curt 'no thanks' but no the world admires war criminals like Blair, Bush, Pinochet and their ilk, makes you wonder how Copenhagen will pan out.....

  • Comment number 3.

    What do you bet the violence in Pakistan increases markedly. And there is only one real telling reason for Uncle Sam in Afghan - Pak nukes and India / Pak going at it. Of course they have to be there but at the same time its the very reason things are going to get worse.

    Be careful where you tread Mark.

  • Comment number 4.

    ...A show of strength...

    Eton rifles?

    i suppose all these meaningless wars do have a punk vibe?

    what about kate bush 'army dreamers'? -which a biting polemic of social comment 'should have been...what a waste'

    or quo's 'you're in the army now'? 'vaction in a foreign land'

    or hardcastle's 19? 'i wasn't sure what was going on'.

    perhaps what is most telling is the music the troops put on their ytube vids?

  • Comment number 5.

    here's an example of music set in the modern conflict

    there could be an interesting social document in seeking out how normally tight lipped people express their feeling in the songs they choose?

  • Comment number 6.

    "US marines with British, Afghan, and Danish support"
    How about some reporting on the performance of the Afghani troops? I was going through some of my father's newspaper clippings of the Vietnam War. It seems that USA escalated the ground war with more U.S. troop reinforcements, when their commanders felt that Army of the Republic of Vietnam was not effective.
    It would be informative to know that the friendly local forces are just as committed to the war.

  • Comment number 7.

    Oops... my bad I meant Mark. Sorry Mr.Urban.

  • Comment number 8.

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