While the first day of the Marjeh Offensive was low key and quiet, the second day seems to have been more intense. A children’s treasury of today’s Marjeh news. Highlights are mine.
- L.A. Times, writing from just outside Marjeh: “For the assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, Marines are drilled yet again about the inadvertent killing of civilians, which could undermine what they are trying to accomplish… Were they planting explosives? You could never be certain, but the reconnaissance drones overhead thought so. Approval was given to fire a rocket at the men. The rocket strike caused a thunderous explosion. The men dug their holes no more.”
- New York Times, writing from Kabul: “The top United States commander in Afghanistan confirmed that a rocket went astray during operations in the Marja area of Helmand province, killing 12 civilians, according to a statement issued by the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan Ministry of Defense.
- Same L.A. Times story as above: “The mantra of the Marine leadership is that the push into Marja is a team effort with the Afghan army. Several Afghan soldiers accompanied the Marines from the 1st Battalion, though very much as junior partners… As Marines unloaded equipment needed to build an outpost at Five Points, others manned “fighting holes” — what the Army calls foxholes. Most of the Afghan soldiers sat in their trucks, with the engines running and the heaters at full blast.”
- The Washington Post, reporting from Camp Leatherneck near Lashkar Gah two days ago: “About 3,500 U.S. Marines, sailors and soldiers, accompanied by about 1,500 Afghan army infantrymen, are directly involved in the mission, supported by thousands more troops at nearby bases. More than 500 paramilitary police will join the effort Sunday or Monday.”
- The Christian Science Monitor, reporting from Kabul. “Thousands of US and Afghan troops ground their way towards the center of the Taliban stronghold of Marjah today despite encountering fierce sniper fire and even greater numbers of home-made bombs, booby traps, and minefields than anticipated. Sixty percent of the front-line forces are Afghan troops.
- The Associated Press, writing from Marjeh: “NATO rockets killed 12 Afghan civilians on Sunday, the second day of an offensive designed to impose Afghan government authority on one of the last big Taliban strongholds in the country’s most violent province… “This is not focused on the Taliban, and it is a strategy not just to clear the area but to hold it and then build right behind it so that there is a civilian component here and there is a local governance,” [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike] Mullen said.
- The Washington Post, reporting from Marjeh: “The operation to secure the area, which began with an airlift of hundreds of Marines and Afghan soldiers on Saturday and continued with the incursion of additional forces on Sunday, is proceeding more slowly than some U.S. military officials had anticipated because of stiff Taliban resistance and a profusion of roadside bombs.”
- The Wall Street Journal, reporting from Marjeh: “”We’ve caught the insurgents on the hoof, and they’re completely dislocated,” British Maj. Gen Nick Carter said in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, where Marjah is located. The insurgents adopted tactics to try to slow the coalition advance with a guerrilla campaign of hit and run attacks with rifles, machine guns and hidden bombs. “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Lt. Col. Calvin Worth, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine regiment.
Alright, I think you get the idea. That last WSJ article contradicts another story on this list: Rajiv Chandrasekaran reported the Marjeh Offensive will have 3,500 troops, 1,500 Afghans, and thousands of support troops for the offensive; Michael Phillips, on the other hand, says there are 9,500 “U.S. Marines and Afghan and British soldiers” actively experiencing combat, with “a few thousand in reserve.”
In other words, even the reporters there, on the ground, directly interacting with and personally interviewing the military are getting contradictory reports of what’s going on. Chandrasekaran and Phillips, for example, both datelined their stories from Marjeh, and they couldn’t be more different: Chandrasekaran says it’s less than 4,000 troops encountering heavy and unexpected resistance, while Phillips says it’s almost 10,000 troops experiencing light and expected resistance. Making matters worse? They both quote the same Lieutenant Colonel, Calvin Worth. There’s not even the excuse that they’re reporting from different parts of Marjeh.
All of which means that on day two of the offensive we have no idea what’s going on. So many reporters have been given so many contradictory ISAF talking points that nothing makes sense. I think we might wind up being reduced to ex-post facto analysis on this one, despite the tsunami of reporting.
Update: Okay, Monday morning the NY Times reports from Kabul that the Taliban of Marjeh have fled to Pakistan, which, while not surprising, is still deeply at odds with first-person accounts above.
And the weird language of this offensive continues—last night on NBC News, they called Marjeh “the Taliban’s Alamo,” which I presume means they’re all going to die because it’s their last resort (the reporter guy actually said, “if you win Marjeh you win all of Helmand”), and not because it represents a symbolic defeat of an irregular militia at the hands of a powerful Army that rallies everyone and eventually they triumph. It’s like when George W. Bush compared the Iraq War to the American Revolution, only the Iraqis were the British. Bizarre is the only word for it.