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Operation Moshtarak
Part of the War in Afghanistan (2001–present)
1st Battalion 3rd Marines near Marja.jpg
Marine from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines seize a key junction of roads just outside of Marja on February 9, 2010
Date February 13, 2010 – present
Location Marja and rest of Helmand Province in Afghanistan
31°31′N 64°07′E / 31.517°N 64.117°E / 31.517; 64.117
Status Conflict ongoing
ISAF-Logo.svg ISAF:[1][2][3]
Afghanistan Taliban insurgents
Afghanistan Mohammad Zazai[8]
United Kingdom James Cowan
United Kingdom Nick Carter
United States Stanley McChrystal
United States Lawrence Nicholson
15,000+ troops[9]
  • United States 4,000[10]
  • United Kingdom 1,200 (up to 4,200 available)[10]
  • Afghanistan 2,500 [11]
  • France Approximately 70
  • Canada Approximately 61
2,000 (Taliban claim)[12]
400–1,000 (U.S. estimate)[13]
Casualties and losses

Total: 18 KIA

  • Afghanistan 2 KIA
  • United Kingdom 4 KIA
  • United States 12 KIA

120+ killed (confirmed)
56 captured

Civilian casualties[16]

28 killed

Operation Moshtarak (Dari and Arabic for Together or Joint) is an ISAF pacification offensive in the area that is described as the "poppy-growing belt" of Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan.[17][18] The combat operations started on February 13, 2010,[19][20][21] and focuses on the Nad Ali District and Lashkar Gah district. It involves Afghan and troops of several ISAF-members in addition to the USMC and U.S. Army units.[22]

The main target of the offensive was widely considered to be Marja (also Marjah or Marjeh), which had been controlled for years by Taliban militants as well as drug traffickers.[23][24] Afghan troops were given a lead role in the ground forces, comprising about 60% of those troops.[25][26] Around 8,000 ground forces and 7,000 support troops are involved when American, British, and other coalition troops are included.[27][28]

As such, the offensive has been described as the largest in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, whose government was ousted from Kabul and Kandahar in October-December 2001, but proceeded to resist in the following years in an ongoing guerrilla war known as the Taliban insurgency. This became especially clear during the violent campaign in the midst of the Afghan presidential elections in 2009.[27][29]

The operation ended a two-year rule by the Taliban in Marja, during which schools, TV and beard-shaving were banned and farmers were allowed to grow opium. According to the UNODC, Taliban insurgents make hefty profits from the drugs trade [30]. The Afghan government announced to reopen schools, restore civil liberties and enforce the ban on poppy cultivation.


Strategic meaning

The operation was called "a key test" of the coalition strategy against the Taliban insurgency.[31][32][33] Brigadier James Cowan, the commander of British forces in Helmand, believed it would mark "the beginning of the end of the insurgency". At the very least it would become a test of whether the Afghan forces would be able to make their country peaceful and safe.[34]

The announcement of the operation was also a part of this strategy: "shaping the information battlefield strategic communications",[35] and to ensure it would not repeat the destruction of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004.[36] Hours before the offensive began, Afghan and coalition forces dropped leaflets with the message, "Do not allow the Taliban to enter your home".[37][38]

New war model

When launched, the operation was called a "new war model". Afghan and NATO officials had assembled a large team of Afghan administrators and an Afghan governor that would move into Marjah after the fighting, with more than 1,900 police standing by. "We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in", said American commander Stanley McChrystal.[39][40] The capture of Marjah was intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation.[41] The Afghan government had pledged to hold any territory seized in the Taliban heartland during the assault. Combat engineers were on hand to ensure power and water supplies were maintained.[42]

Timeline of battle


As early as September 2009, Canadian soldiers from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry began training about 400 Afghan National Army recruits for the operation.[43] Since January 2010, coalition forces had launched smaller "shaping operations" to prepare for the main assault on February 13. One of these operations was a series of "find, fix, strike" raids by four-man SAS teams and U.S. Navy SEALS at night. These resulted in the deaths of 50 Taliban leaders in the area.[citation needed] In another operation, the Scots Guards and Grenadier Guards captured a bomb factory and defused 20 IEDs.[citation needed] The Afghan public was warned of the upcoming operation, in line with new rules of engagement for British forces, called "courageous restraint." The tactic, conceived by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal and British Major General Nick Carter[44] , required soldiers to "use brain-power rather than fire-power" and hoped to reduce damage to the Afghan population (in terms of collateral and life cost) by using fewer munitions and support measures. 11 Light Brigade, the main British formation in Helmand for use in the counter-insurgency role tested the doctrine in some of the more heavily populated areas in Helmand.[45]

The publicity and the new tactics intended to prevent the loss of civilians, and to persuade insurgents to lay down their arms. The operation was the first in Helmand since the surge of 30,000 U.S. troops and additional British reinforcements in late 2009/early 2010.[26]

Soldiers from 1 Coldstream Guards Battle Group, 1 Grenadier Guards Battle Group, 1 Royal Welsh Battle Group and elements of the United States Marine Corps and United States Army were involved in the action, alongside Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces.[26]

British Forces focused on the Lashkar Gah district and Nad Ali district, and U.S. forces on the town of Marja. U.S. forces included the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines and 1st Battalion, 6th Marines,

Canadian and Afghan National Army soldiers patrol in Badula Qulp, Helmand province, February 17, 2010

3rd Battalion, 6th Marines and 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines.[46][47][48] The operation also intended to cut the opium trade. Its main aim was to ensure that captured ground can be held by British and American troops, enabling the Afghan government and civilian aid agencies to work more effectively in the province.[26]

The Canadian Forces focused on the air assault with seven helicopters, including three CH-147 Chinook escorted by four CH-146 Griffon. The Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg)[49] ferried about 1,100 coalition troops to Nad Ali District in the largest air assault ever conducted with Canadian helicopters.[50][51][52] 33 other coalition helicopters, supported by fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles , also participated in the operation with a total of 11 waves of troop drops.[53]

Ahead of the military operation, hundreds of civilian families fled Marja and its surroundings.[54][55] The town was suspected to be "one of the biggest, most dangerous minefields NATO forces have ever faced," and hundreds of the beleaguered insurgents could insist to fight until death.[56]

February 13, 2010

1st Battalion, 6th Marines board CH-53E Super Stallion on February 13
US Marines and Afghan troops engaged on the outskirts of Marja while a UH-60 Black Hawk arrives for a medical evacuation on February 13.

On February 12, hours before midnight the Afghan President Hamid Karzai had given his personal approval for the operation, that had been delayed for 24 hours as Afghan officials entered last minute negotiations with insurgents.[57] The landing of waves of helicopters across central Helmand marked the start of the major offensive.[58] On February 13, two hours before dawn at 4 am local time the first of 90 Chinook and Cobra helicopters disgorged a force of British, Afghan and French troops. The advance into Marjah was slowed during the morning through poppy fields lined with home-made explosives and other land mines.[59][60][61][62][63][64][65]

The first kills were reported to be made by unmanned Predator aircraft and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, targeting insurgents seen laying roadside bombs and setting up anti-aircraft guns. At 2 am local time the troops from the U.S. Marine Corps seized a series of canal crossings south of Nad-e-Ali.

Within half an hour, the U.S., British and Afghan special forces seized and secured dozens of helicopter landing sites. At 2:25 am Chinooks approached, flown by pilots with night vision equipment and guided by infra-red flares, dropped from U.S. Marine KC-130's. At about 4 am, RAF Chinooks full of soldiers from the 1st battalion the Royal Welsh left Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand, for the Pegasus landing zone in the Taliban stronghold of Showal in the Chah-e-Anjir area. While the British force began to secure their area, a 1,000-strong combined force of members of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Afghan National Army landed in Marjah. During the following 90 minutes, more Marines arrived in waves of CH-53 Super Stallion transport helicopters. By daybreak, hundreds more soldiers began to enter the area by land, using mobile bridges and Assault Breacher Vehicles.[66]

Major General Nick Parker, commander of NATO Regional Command South in southern Afghanistan, said Afghan and coalition troops made a "successful insertion" without incurring any casualties. While the U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers stormed the town of Marjah, British, American and Canadian forces struck in the Nad Ali district. General Sher Mohammad Zazai, commander of the Afghan troops in the south, said Afghan and NATO forces had established positions in 11 of 13 targeted areas in and around Marjah and were slowly pushing forward.[67][68]

When invading Marja, the invading troops confiscated caches of weapons and ammunition. The greatest obstacle was the extensive network of mines and booby traps. The assault troops were reported to run into "a huge number" of improvised explosive devices when crossing a canal into the town's northern entrance. Marines used portable aluminium bridges to span the irrigation channels. Mobile bridges enabled the safe crossing of the main canal into Marjah, since the existing bridge was expected to be rigged with explosives. Marine engineers moved forward in special mine-clearing Assault Breacher Vehicles. These 72-ton, 40-foot (12-meter)-long vehicles, fitted with a 15-foot (4.5-meter)-wide plow supported by metallic skis that glide on the dirt, and nearly 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) of explosives, ploughed a path through fields and dug a safety lane through the numerous minefields laid by the Taliban. To clear minefields and ignite roadside bombs, the Marines also launched rockets which deploy cables of plastic explosives, called M58 MICLIC.[69][70]

On the first day of the operation, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman of the Taliban, said that insurgents were still resisting in Marjah in hit-and-run tactics against ISAF forces. Mullah Mohammed had told ABC News that the Taliban were retreating to reduce civilian casualties.[71] By nightfall, it was claimed by ISAF sources that Marines "appeared to be in control" of the centre of Marjah.[72]

Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said it was "the most successful operation we have ever carried out", but warned that the complete military operation could take a month.[73]

February 14, 2010

Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers take cover outside Marja on February 13

On the morning of February 14, 2010, a report of the Australian newspaper Herald Sun under the headline "Opium city captured" claimed the seizure of Marjah, "source of most of the world's opium", by the Afghan and ISAF forces.[74] However, Reuters reported that a small flag-raising ceremony at one of the Afghan and ISAF compounds on the morning of February 14 drew gunfire, suggesting that the insurgents remained defiant.[75] After American, Afghan and British troops seized crucial positions, having first overwhelmed most immediate resistance, they encountered "intense but sporadic" fighting as they began house-to-house searches. The pattern suggested that the hardest fighting was still to come. According to American commanders the troops had achieved every first-day objective, including advancing into the city itself and seizing strategic points like intersections, government buildings and one of the city's bazaars in the center. The following searching door to door for weapons and insurgents is expected to last at least five days, with possibly hundreds of bombs and booby-traps in houses and on roads and foothpaths as the biggest concern.[76]

On this second day of the operation British troops pushed through Showal, the town that for the last two years was under the control of insurgents who used it as a staging post to build bombs and to train their fighters to plant them. In factory raids explosives for numerous improvised explosive devices were seized.[77] Not only bomb-making equipment, but also drugs and heroin-processing chemicals were found. Among the drugs seized were 17 tons of black tar opium, 74 tons of opium poppy seeds, 400 pounds of hashish and 443 pounds of heroin.[78]

Twelve civilians, 10 of whom were from the same family, were killed when civilian houses in Marjah were struck by two rockets fired by a NATO High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). All use of the rocket system was stopped by NATO commanders, the American general McChrystal telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to apologize for what he called the "unfortunate incident" and the latter called for an investigation.[79][80][81][82][83][84] Major General Nick Carter stated however that the rockets were on target and the house was used by the Taliban for staging attacks[85].

February 15, 2010

On the morning of the third day of the operation, the American general Stanley McChrystal visited the former "insurgent capital" of Showal, where after two years the white flag of the Taliban was replaced with the red, green and black national flag. While the British 50 square mile sector of northern Nad-e-Ali had fallen easily, the American troops were still pushing through Marjah a few miles away where the insurgents are putting up a "final stand".[86]

According to American and Afghan commanders, the number of insurgents in the area had dropped by about half. About a quarter of the 400 (?) Taliban fighters estimated to be in Marja at the beginning of the operation had been killed. Another quarter appeared to have fled the area, including most of the leaders. In Marja itself fighting continued in two areas, at the northern end of the district and at the center [87]

February 18, 2010

On February 18, 2010, Afghan soldiers raised the Afghan national flag over the badly damaged bazaar in Marjah, after driving back Taliban snipers on their third attempt, witnessed by the top Afghan general in Helmand and the provincial governor. The same day, there were reports about a meeting of Afghan government officials with Taliban representatives in the Maldives that had taken place at the end of January [88]

February 25, 2010

After 12 days, on the morning of February 25, 2010, there was another flag rising ceremony. The Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald reported that an AFP photographer mentioned the rising of the Afghan flag on a building at the Marjah bazaar by Mohammad Gulab Mangal, governor of Helmand province, watched by Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, the commander of the US Marines in southern Afghanistan. This ceremony was attended by a crowd of several hundred inhabitants of the town and guarded by US Marine snipers on the roofs of buildings. Nicholson and Mangal, accompanied by Major General Nick Carter, the British commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, arrived in Marja early that day by helicopter from Camp Bastion [89]

March 16, 2010

On March 16 March, 2010, an assessment by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) claimed that the conflict in Marjah had left 35 civilians dead, 37 injured, and 55 houses destroyed - without specification which side killed how many civilians. Except for some "small pockets of resistance", Taliban fighters had been driven out of the town, but many inhabitants were struggling to return to some kind of normality. Before and during the military operation they were promised rapid aid, but some three weeks after the end of the offensive local people said that they had yet to receive any meaningful assistance. [90]

Taliban casualties

As of February 18, Coalition forces have not released, or given any more statements about estimates of Taliban casualties during this operation. In the first 5 days of fighting an anonymous US intelligence source estimated at least 120 Taliban fighters were killed engaging Coalition and Afghan forces in Marjah during the operation.

Order of battle

The following order of battle was taken from an ISAF press release:[91]

A combined force of 15,000 is involved in Operation Moshtarak. This combined force includes:

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh at Patrol Base Shaheed on March 3.

See also


  1. ^ "Operation Moshtarak" (in English). ISAF. 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  2. ^ "Helicopter armada heralds Afghan surge" (in English). Telegraph. 2010-02-13. 
  3. ^ "Major assault on Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan" (in English). AFP. 2010-02-13. 
  4. ^ Diggers involved in Afghan battle
  5. ^ "Großoffensive gegen Taliban in Südafghanistan gestartet" (in German). AFP. 2010-02-13. 
  6. ^ "Danske kampvogne med i offensiv" (in Danish). Forsvaret - Hærens Operative Kommando. 2010-02-13. Retrieved 2010-02-14. 
  7. ^ "Plusieurs dizaines de soldats français participent à l'opération Mushtarak" (in French). AFP. 2010-02-13. 
  8. ^ "Nato hails major Afghan operation". BBC (2010-02-13). Retrieved 2010-02-14.
  9. ^ "Afghanistan offensive on Taliban in Helmand". BBC (2010-02-13). Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  10. ^ a b "UK role in Operation Moshtarak 'goes to plan', MoD says". BBC News. 14 February 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 
  11. ^ "Assault on Taliban in southern Afghanistan begins NATO". Yahoo! News. 12 February 2010. Retrieved 15 February 2010. 
  12. ^ "Taliban getting ready for major fight". Reuters. Dawn. 2010-02-08. Retrieved 2010-02-10. 
  13. ^ "Operation Moshtarak: Assault in Helmand province". BBC (2010-02-13). Retrieved 2010-02-13.
  14. ^ "Marines move toward ‘build’ phase in Marjah". 2010-03-07. 
  15. ^ "Over 120 Taliban militants killed in southern Afghanistan". 
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Afghan, US troops meet Marjah resistance: official "
  18. ^ "Operation Moshtarak: At a glance "
  19. ^ "Clearing Operations Commence in Central Helmand"
  20. ^ "Operation Moshtarak begins – A Military Operations news article"
  21. ^ "NATO Launches Major Afghanistan Offensive"
  22. ^ U.S. Plans Defense of Kandahar
  23. ^ "Marjah: heroin and Taliban nexus in the eye of a storm"
  24. ^ Military Officials Say Afghan Fight Is Coming
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ a b c d Wyatt, Caroline (2010-02-05). "UK Afghanistan forces 'soften up' Taliban targets". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  27. ^ a b Whitlock, Craig (2010-02-06). "NATO ministers, commanders advertise planned offensive in southern Afghanistan". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  28. ^ [2]
  29. ^ "Operation Moshtarak: Biggest offensive since 2001 under way – Allies and Afghans join forces to seize stronghold, but what will be the ultimate outcome?"
  30. ^ "Afghanistan Opium Survey 2009"
  31. ^ "Marjah fight geared for Afghan civilians' safety"
  32. ^ "Afghans Try to Reassure Tribal Elders on Offensive"
  33. ^ "Marja offensive a test for NATO's ability in uprooting Taliban"
  34. ^ "Maybe this is the end of the beginning"
  35. ^ "Afghanistan conflict an 'information war'"
  36. ^ "Afghan campaign seeks to avoid Iraq mistakes"
  37. ^ Tim Reid (2010-02-13). "Troops start 'make or break' assault on the Taleban". The Times.
  38. ^ "Central Helmand Residents Encouraged to Remain in Homes"
  39. ^ "Battle for town is a small step on the path to victory"
  40. ^ "A Test for the Meaning of Victory in Afghanistan"
  41. ^ "Afghan operation is new war model"
  42. ^ "'Here to stay' says Afghan government"
  43. ^ Ward, Olivia (2010-02-27). "Canadians played key role in Marja attack". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2010-03-01. 
  44. ^ Wyatt, Caroline (2010-01-28). "Restraint the new tactic for UK troops in Afghanistan". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  45. ^ Wyatt, Caroline (2010-01-28). "Restraint the new tactic for UK troops in Afghanistan". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-02-06. 
  46. ^ Marines poised for Marjeh offensive
  47. ^ Marines fight insurgents, secure key intersection on road to Marjeh
  48. ^ In the Cold of Morning, Descending Into Conflict
  49. ^ "Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg) Air Wing" (in English). National Defence and the Canadian Forces . 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  50. ^ "NATO offensive launched" (in English). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  51. ^ "Importante offensive antitalibane" (in French). Radio-Canada. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  52. ^ "Coalition attacks Taliban stronghold" (in English). Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. 2009-11-11. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  53. ^ "Canadians play key role in NATO offensive" (in English). The Globe and Mail. 2010-02-13. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  54. ^ (02.08.10) "AFGHANISTAN: Fleeing on foot at night". IRIN
  55. ^ "Afghanistan Says Ready If Thousands Flee Assault "
  56. ^ "Marines Wait in the Cold for Afghan Offensive"
  57. ^ "Afghan interior minister calls on Taliban to give up militancy"
  58. ^ "Operation Moshtarak: first wave of offensive against Taliban strongholds begins- The long-awaited offensive to drive the Taliban from their strongholds in southern Afghanistan began in earnest last night"
  59. ^ "Helicopter armada heralds Afghanistan surge – An armada of helicopters lifted a vast force against Taliban strongholds today in the biggest operation mounted in Afghanistan since 2001"
  60. ^ "Taliban killed in Helmand during fighting in massive Operation Moshtarak"
  61. ^ "Five Militants Killed in Afghan Offensive"
  62. ^ "Coalition Forces Launch Afghan Taliban Offensive"
  63. ^ "Nato launches major Afghan assault"
  64. ^ "U.S. Starts Afghan Surge – Invasion of Taliban Territory Puts Obama Strategy to Test; Aid Dollars to Follow"
  65. ^ Harding, Thomas (13 February 2010), "Flying into history with the British forces on the first day of Operation Moshtarak", Telegraph, 
  66. ^ "Afghanistan: first stage of operation Moshtarak declared a success – The first stage of the biggest military offensive ever launched by Nato troops in Afghanistan has been declared a success as thousands of U.S. and British troops seized a string of Taliban strongholds across central Helmand"
  67. ^ "UK troops engaged in Operation Moshtarak"
  68. ^ "Afghanistan offensive on Taleban in Marjah starts 'without a hitch'"
  69. ^ "Marines push 'The Breacher' against Taliban lines"
  70. ^ "Taliban leaders flee as marines hit stronghold"
  71. ^ "Nato hails major Afghan operation". BBC News. 13 February 2010. Retrieved 13 February 2010. 
  72. ^ "Taliban leaders flee as marines hit stronghold"
  73. ^ "Governor of Helmand: Operation Moshtarak could last a month – Fighting in Operation Moshtarak to clear hundreds of Taliban fighters from a stronghold in Afghanistan's Helmand province could last a month, the governor has warned"
  74. ^ "Opium city captured"
  75. ^ "Afghan flag-raising in NATO offensive draws gunfire"
  76. ^ "Allied Troops Seize Taliban Posts; Fighting Is Sporadic"
  77. ^ "British troops destroy Taliban bomb making factories - British troops have destroyed a Taliban bomb-making ring after seizing three arms factories in an operation that is likely to have saved scores of soldiers’ lives"
  78. ^ "Commandos make record drug seizure in Afghanistan - Afghan commandos backed by US soldiers seized a record haul of more than 91 tons of drugs and killed 60 fighters in an attack on a key insurgent and heroin supply base"
  79. ^ "The mistaken killing of 12 Afghan civilians prompts U.S. apology"
  80. ^ "Armed Forces head Sir Jock Stirrup says Afghan civilian deaths a 'serious setback' - Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the head of the Armed Forces, has admitted that the deaths of 12 civilians from Nato rocket attack in Afghanistan is a "very serious setback" for Operation Moshtarak"
  81. ^ "Afghanistan: Operation Moshtarak continues amid rocket ban over 12 civilian deaths - British troops in Afghanistan taking part in Operation Moshtarak will press on with operations in Helmand province amid a ban on a rocket system that killed 12 civilians"
  82. ^ "Errant U.S. Rocket Strike Kills Civilians in Afghanistan"
  83. ^ [3]
  84. ^ "NATO in Afghanistan says six of the civilians killed in Marjah missile error were children"
  85. ^ Operation Moshtarak: missiles that killed civilians 'hit correct target'
  86. ^ "Operation Moshtarak: Gen Stanley McChrystal visits subdued former Taliban capital - Three days earlier we had been crouching against walls and treading with trepidation down a road that carried the threat of hidden bombs with just our body armour for protection"
  87. ^ "Half of Town’s Taliban Flee or Are Killed, Allies Say"
  88. ^ "Afghan troops raise flag in key town but Marjah battle not over yet - Reports of talks between Karzai officials and Taliban militants in the Maldives".
  89. ^ "Afghan flag raised over town at centre of major assault"
  90. ^ IRIN Press release "AFGHANISTAN: Marjah residents take stock after offensive"
  91. ^ Operation Moshtarak
  92. ^ Consolidation and Stabilisation Begin on Operation MOSHTARAK

External links

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