“Stay in your homes,” they say.

by Joshua Foust on 2/9/2010 · 1 comment

I guess the Taliban never hide in homes and use the people inside as civilian shields? That is the assumption behind the latest confusing and contradictory ISAF press release about the Marjeh Offensive:

In anticipation of operations in central Helmand, a variety of organizations and individuals, including combined force commanders, have been paying close attention to civilian movements. Commanders in the area are reporting no significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the last month.

Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area, the facts on the ground do not support these assertions. Current estimates are that fewer than 200 families have left Nad-e Ali since Operation Moshtarak was announced. Combined force commanders are encouraging civilians to remain in the safety of their homes. Every effort is being made to ensure minimum disruption to the residents during the operation.

Ignoring the weird disconnect between the accounts of locals and the commanders in the area, in what universe are Afghans safe in their homes during a U.S.-Taliban gunfight? Especially when the main guy in charge of the operation seems to think the civilian exodus gives the U.S. leeway to use airstrikes willynilly?

As Noah Shachtman points out, there is a deep contradiction at the heart of the upcoming offensive: American generals are adamant that “clearing the town” will allow them greater freedom of action, while at the same time they urge people to stay in their homes for their own safety. The Marines want a long, slow deliberate buildup to minimize civilian casualties, while at the same time trying for a lightning strike to surprise and overwhelm whomever is still there. That just doesn’t make any sense, especially when we realize the fairly obvious: the months of warning about this offensive have basically turned the entire area (though did those people really flee or not?) into a gigantic minefield.

ISAF really needs to get its many stories about this place straight.

Update: Al Jazeera visits one of the displacement camps housing the thousands of civilians ISAF says don’t exist, above.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 1 comment }

Toryalay Shirzay February 9, 2010 at 4:35 pm

ISAF has already shot itself in the foot by letting all know they are coming to Marjah.The Taliban have already taken countermeasures to turn this ISAF operation into a failure,by having the civilians get killed.When does ISAF STOP shooting itself in the foot?? when?Telling your military operations openly ahead of action is a recipe for definite failure.I really do wonder if ISAF is even serious about winning this war or they may have other agendas we don’t fully understand.

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