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.