Afghanistan‘s Taliban insurgents have launched a counter operation against thousands of United States Marines pushing into southern Helmand province to teach them “a lesson” it is claimed.
More than 4,000 American marines and 650 Afghan soldiers have only met isolated resistance since storming into the southern Helmand river valley five days ago.
The US Operation Khanjar, or ‘sword strike’, is the first big push of Barack Obama’s surge strategy in Afghanistan and designed to turn the tide against the stubborn insurgency
Commanders also hope the massive assault will persuade some insurgents they have no alternative but to enter talks with the government.
However, Yousef Ahmadi, a Taliban spokesman, said fighters had now responded with Operation Foladi Jal, or “iron net”.
He said: “Their Khanjar will get stuck in our Foladi Jal.” “In this operation we’ll teach them a lesson so they will never again dare to come into our areas.”
“We will not engage them in front battles. We would rather hit them by mines and guerrilla attacks,” he said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties and it was not clear when the offensive would start. Coalition commanders have said they had expected fighters to withdraw in the face of the initial assault operation and then re-group using guerilla tactics.
The threat was made as the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade said 500 marines had re-established Afghan government control in the Khan Neshin area.
A statement said: “This is the first time coalition forces have had a sustained presence so far south in the Helmand River valley.” After a rapid blitz involving the biggest American marine helicopter assault since Vietnam, troops have begun a ‘hearts and minds’ drive trying to persuade the wary and independent population they and the central government can help them.
Southern Helmand has only ever come under marginal government control and villagers complain promises made during previous international offensives have not been kept.
Local politicians said past operations had only killed defenceless civilians before the troops withdrew.
Ghafari, an MP from southern Helmand, said: “After they cleared the area, even the foreign forces or the national army did not stay there for 24 hours, and retreated and deserted the area for the return of the insurgents.
“This time too, the people are doubtful about these operations and think that these may also be the same as the operations in the past.”