Afghanistan: March 8, 2002

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British SAS and SBS detachments, with the aid of US troops and Afghan fighters, are leading a hunt in southern Afghanistan for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. In January, Mullah Omar was supposedly trapped in Bagran in Helmand province but managed to escape, allegedly on a motorcycle. 

Unlike the Gardez operation, the mission in the remote Pushtun heartland is shrouded in secrecy. Around 50 British commandos carried out more than half a dozen raids as part of the hunt, mainly in Kandahar province.

While following intelligence reports that Omar is in the area with a number of his lieutenants, though there is no suggestion that Osama bin Laden is there too. A number of Taliban fighters were killed or captured and documents were discovered in the operation, while allied Afghan fighters have also been killed. - Adam Geibel

The interim government is sending a thousand (mostly non Pushtun) soldiers to join the Gardez fighting. It is feared that some of the al Qaeda will try and slip away and the region where the fighting is taking place provides ample opportunity to do that. Many of the new Afghan troops will also provide security around Gardez, as it is feared that some al Qaeda will get down there and shoot up American support units. It is also suspected that armed al Qaeda sympathizers are moving to the area to join the fight. The al Qaeda and Taliban have called for local sympathizers to join a jihad against the foreign infidels. 

It is thought there may be other concentrations of al Qaeda and Taliban troops along the Pakistan border or north of Kandahar. There are hundreds of caves and buildings used by the Taliban and al Qaeda that have not yet been searched. Many of these places are thought to hold ammunition, weapons and food that can be used to sustain al Qaeda forces over the Winter and enable them to continue fighting. There may be at least a thousand additional hard core al Qaeda loose in the land, plus as many, if not more, hard core Taliban.

American troops have learned not to trust Afghans when it comes to information about enemy troops or the local terrain. The Afghans, in common with many cultures throughout the world, don't like to answer "I don't know" when asked for information. So they will make a guess and swear that it is accurate information. There is also a problem with warlords lying in order to trick Americans into attacking an enemy of the warlord. The special forces have been particularly useful in detecting these problems and coming up with diplomatic ways to get around it (for example, by pulling out aerial photos and telling the local big shot that "we think the best way up the mountain is like this, what do you think?" The local guy will say "yeah," and everyone is happy.)

Fighting continues in the mountains outside Gardez, despite overcast weather that prevents most aircraft operations (except the heavy bombers carrying GPS bombs.) The hundred or so remaining al Qaeda are organized into small groups of five to 40 men and are hiding in caves and trying and ambush advancing American troops. The al Qaeda are experienced fighters and are using deceptions to their advantage. One example is when al Qaeda used orange canvas panels, which American troops are using to mark friendly positions when gunships come in to provide close support. Fortunately, most of the area the al Qaeda are in is treeless, although there are lots of rocks and gullies to hide in and behind. Al Qaeda move around more at night to change positions, although U.S. night vision equipment makes this difficult. 

When the weather is clear, helicopter and fixed wing gun ships get in close and do a lot of damage. 

Some 500 al Qaeda and Taliban have been killed, while eight Americans and seven Afghans have died. American officials believe the fighting will end this weekend.


 

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