Consolidation and Stabilisation Begin on Operation MOSHTARAK
(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued Feb.14, 2010)
Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s of 904 Expeditionary Air Wing are providing support for ISAF forces involved in Operation Moshtarak. (UK MoD photo)
Operation MOSHTARAK, the Afghan-led initiative to assert government authority in central Helmand province, has completed its first clearing operations, with 'hot stabilisation' already underway in the UK area of operations.

UK Military spokesman Major General Gordon Messenger gave a comprehensive account of events on Operation MOSHTARAK over the past 24 to 48 hours at a press briefing in London on Sunday 14 February 2010.

Maj Gen Messenger set out the context. The Regional Command (South) plan for the south of Afghanistan has three phases: Phase one was to rearrange forces around Kandahar so as to improve security around the city and its routes, so improving freedom of movement of the people. Phase two, currently underway, was focused on securing the population in central Helmand. Phase three would involve sending forces back to Kandahar to support Government influence in the city and developing the capacity of the police.

There were three reasons for signalling the operation in Central Helmand in advance. First, to give the Taliban a choice. Second, to make the population aware that the operation was about to unfold. Third, it allowed a much greater level of Afghan involvement and ownership, and subsequently Afghan participation.

Afghans had been involved early on, and at all levels. The operation was briefed to President Karzai some weeks ago, and Governor Gulab Mangal had led Shuras beforehand. Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police were heavily involved in the planning.

The Major General explained that the operations were broadly about expanding security and Afghan Goverment influence to the areas of Chah-e-Anjir, Western Babaji - otherwise known as the PEAR, Trikh Nawa, and Marjah. Without these areas being cleared, stabilisation operations in the area would have been vulnerable.

Shaping operations had begun before the start of Operation MOSHTARAK. A US Task Force had secured Five-Ways Junction and crossing points along Canal 56.

At the same time the Household Cavalry and Danish Leopard Tanks conducted operations in the Bolan Desert to safeguard the area around Lashkar Gah and disrupt insurgents' freedom of movement to the East.

The Scots Guards had isolated key aras in South Nad Ali, and Task Force Leatherneck had conducted shaping operations to isolate Marjah and secured key lines of communication to support civilian freedom of movement.

Overnight on 12 and 13 February, 1/3/201 Afghan National Army and a Company of 1 Royal Welsh had conducted air insertion into the Chah-e-Anjir Triangle. A Company Group also of 1 Royal Welsh had gone into Western Babaji, and a combined force of ANA and USMC had conducted air assaults against multiple objectives in central Marjah.

There had been simultaneous and corresponding movements on the ground to link up with these air insertions: from the East, Coldstream Guards with 6/2/215 ANA had conducted a ground link-up operation into the Babaji 'PEAR'; a combined force of 1/3/215 ANA and 1 Grenadier Guards plus Estonian Forces had moved into the Chah-e-Anjir Triangle west of Babaji; and a combined force of ANA and US Marine Corps (USMC) had conducted a ground movement into Northern Marjah.

About the same number of troops had been inserted over ground as by air, with just under 1,000 in each of the major movements.

The theme for UK Forces in the past 24 hours had been consolidation.

Patrols had been sent out into the areas that the original insertions did not cover. There had been successful searches for IEDs and IED components, with the ANA and Royal Welsh finding 13 pressure-plate IEDs in one compound. Such searches were often directed and indicated by the locals.

Forces had been securing secondary objectives, such as securing crossings of canals and chokepoints.

They had also begun initial engineering work, such as bridge-building and rapid Force Protection engineering works at the bases now being established.

Finally, they were providing security for the Shuras (meetings of elders) that were taking place across the area. For example, a Shura had been held at Showal, north west of Chah-e-Anjir, yesterday attended by around 150 locals, with another even larger Shura today.

Maj Gen Messenger said that the ANA had asserted Afghan authority:

"Showall had been the seat of Taliban shadow government in the area. The Taliban flag was taken down and the Afghan National flag was put in its place."

The air element of the combined operations had been significant, but very stringent requirements were in place before air weapons could be dropped.

Maj Gen Messenger stated:

"There have been no bombs dropped in the UK area of operations, there has been no artillery fired in the UK area of operations, there have been no reports of civilian casualties in the UK area of operations."

Just one Apache Helicopter Hellfire missile had been fired in the UK area of operations. A Household Cavalry patrol was engaged by insurgents near a compound. The UK Apache helicopter fired warning shots into an open field, as was normal practice, but the insurgents had continued to fire at the patrol and so a Hellfire was used.

Maj Gen Messenger said that the operation was not short of complexity, given the aviation, ground and multinational elements, but that Commanders on the ground were very much of the view that the operation had gone according to plan.

There had been, and remained, very little Taliban interference. There had been small arms attacks from a distance which had tested the patrols, but nothing had stopped the mission from progressing or Shuras from taking place.

The local elders had expressed confidence that this was not simply a 'mowing the grass' operation, but that ANA and ISAF were here to stay. The Afghan Government were already forward, making contact and conducting Shuras. Initial interaction was done via the ANA, but Afghan Government representatives from Lashkar Gah had already come forward.

Maj Gen Messenger spoke of the mood of British troops on the ground: "There is no complacency. It is not unusual for the Taliban to melt away and then come back at us once they've had time to catch their breath."

The next stage of the operations would be continued clearance and consolidation, with "hot stabilisation" called forward as local conditions permitted.

A number of stabilisation projects had already been agreed and were now underway. These would not tip the balance, the Maj Gen Messenger said, but were an important early part of showing ANA/ISAF intent to stay.

The Major General explained that initial planning had thought that the early stages of stablilisation in the UK area would be taken up with compensation claims for damage caused as a result of the operations. But this had proven largely unnecessary, and stabilisation efforts had been accelerated. "Cash for work" projects had already been indentified at local level, and would begin recruiting as early as tomorrow.

Maj Gen Messenger said that early indications were positive on the key objective of winning the support and engagement of the local population:

"[British Task Force Commander] Brigadier James Cowan is very pleased, he had just returned form the Shura when I spoke to him under an hour ago, and he senses genuinely that the population are prepared to give it a go."

"No-one is saying that the immediate stuff, useful though it is, necessary though it is, is going to be the game-changer. The game-changer is the residual security that is provided there, and continued confidence of the locals that the Afghan Government in the area is going to provide for them.

"Security first, enabling Afghan-led stabilisation over a period of months, that's the secret."

The Major General summarised his briefing:

"Everyone understands that what has happened over the last 24-48 hours is the easy bit. The hard bit, the challenge, is the enduring effort, is delivering the security which allows the Afghans to start providing for their people.

"I fully accept that the success of this operation will be judged on that, not on the last 48 hours." (ends)

Initial Key Objectives of Op Moshtarak Achieved
(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued Feb.13, 2010)
The initial key objectives of Operation Moshtarak have been achieved in a short space of time and with minimal interference from the Taliban, UK military spokesman Major General Gordon Messenger has said this afternoon.

The "clearing" phase of the operation was launched at 0400hrs local time this morning with a series of simultaneous helicopter assaults and ground offensives undertaken by thousands of Afghan Army forces and ISAF soldiers from nations including the UK, US, Denmark and Estonia.

Major General Messenger said: "It is still early days but operational commanders are currently pleased with the progress that has been made since the operation was launched this morning.

"There has been some resistance but it has been relatively light and the initial objective of surprising the Taliban with the time and place of the operation appears to have been achieved."

Major General Messenger said the key objectives of this phase of the operation was the built up population areas where troops were inserted via helicopters. Ground elements, linked up with these troops according to plan.

Soldiers from the 1 Royal Welsh Battle Group, the Coldstream Guards Battle Group (UK) and 1 Grenadier Guards Battle Group (UK), along with their Afghan Army partners and troops from Estonia were involved in clearing the area of the Chah E Anjir Triangle, as well as the area to the west of Babaji.

American and Afghan troops meanwhile led air and ground assaults in the much larger Marjah region where clearance operations are still ongoing.

Major General Messenger said that in the British area of operations the initial stage of the clearance phase had been completed. He said there has been some fighting but that this had been only sporadic, adding: "The Taliban have not been able to put up a coherent response. They appear confused and disorientated."

The speed of the clearance phase has allowed shuras with the local population, led by the Afghan National Army to take place. These have been successful, the locals know that ISAF and Afghan forces were coming and they have been welcoming, Major General Messenger said.

The elders have been assured that ISAF are here to stay and the early signs are that the local people are keen to engage.

This is key to the enduring success of the operation. Major General Messenger suggested that the Taliban have either left the area of melted into the local population, perhaps with a view to fighting another day. But the strategy to build up the influence of the Afghanistan Government and a permanent security presence from Afghan and ISAF forces in the area will limit the ability of insurgents to once again take control.

Major General Messenger said there have been a number of IED finds and a number of occasions where the local population have pointed out IEDS, in one case a lane through an IED field was pointed out.

Critical to the success of the operation so far, he added, was the use of ISAF air elements including the full array of ISTAR and fixed wing support. He said there were strict instructions on the use of air munitions which were being kept to an absolute minimum.

While there have been a relatively low number of insurgent casualties, Major General Messenger said he is not aware of any civilian casualties.

The current situation involves predominately Afghan forces engaging with local people in the population centres with other ISAF forces providing flanking protection on the outside.

The theme over the next 24 hours Major General Messenger said was that of consolidation, with troops getting a greater understanding of the terrain they are operating in and making sure the local people know that they are there to protect them.

Following this the stabilisation plan will be immediately enacted which sees an enduring security force of partnered Afghan and NATO forces, and the Afghan National Police, providing reassurance and presence for the local population.

Local governors and village elders were consulted before the operation started and will be an important part of the design of the subsequent security posture.

Summing up the operation so far Major General Messenger said: "It appears that the Taliban have been forced into relative inactivity, although in the next few days they could get their breath back and have a go. There is also the residual IED threat.

"No one is saying the area is secure or the job is done but the feeling is that events last night have gone as well as they could have gone. So far so good.

"We have achieved tactical surprise, the approach of advance warning has gone well and the positive local dynamics are a very good sign but there's still a long way to go. This is all about winning the allegiance of the local people and you can't do that over night."

Stressing the point that seeking to engage the Taliban was never a key objective, Major General Messenger said: "This is not and cannot be a campaign of us against them. It is about removing their ability to operate in the population and then building the Afghan capacity to deal with the challenges."

Major General Messenger said that the operation is of considerable significance to the overall campaign in Afghanistan, saying that these areas are known as bad areas and until we can show and enduring presence there then we can't move on to the next level of the campaign. (ends)

Operation Moshtarak Begins
(Source: UK Ministry of Defence; issued Feb.14, 2010)
The key military "clearing" phase of Operation Moshtarak, involving a combined force of 15,000 troops launching major assaults on Taliban strongholds, has begun in central Helmand Province today, Saturday 13 February 2010.

The operation is being carried out by the combined forces of the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, NATO's International Security Assistance Force Regional Command (South), and the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team.

The operations now underway are designed to clear the region of insurgents and set the conditions for the Government of Afghanistan to introduce increased security, stability, development, rule of law, freedom of movement and reconstruction in the area.

The operation is being conducted in line with the wishes of the Afghan government in Helmand. The security forces involved are serving side-by-side, representing partnership in strength.

The operation is focussing on the areas of Marjah to the north where operations are being led by Afghan Forces and US Marines and Nad Ali, where Afghans, British, Canadian and other American forces are leading the attack.

The clearing phase which has begun today follows the smaller-scaled "shaping" phase that have helped set the conditions for today's offensive.

Speaking to over 1,000 troops which included soldiers from Australia, Canada, the United States, France and Estonia who are partnering with the Afghanistan National Security Forces, at Camp Bastion prior to the main assault, Brigadier James Cowan, the Commander of 11 Light Brigade who are the lead element of Task Force Helmand said:

"We stand here today as partners. In the past few weeks we have trained to be a combined force.

"Soon we will be part of an operation the like of which has not been seen since the start of this campaign: Operation Moshtarak, or in English, "Together".

"I can think of no better name to describe this venture. For we are in this together: we have planned it together, we will fight it together, we will see it through together.

"Afghans with allies, soldiers with civilians, Government with its people.

"In the last few weeks we have seized the initiative from the enemy. Day after day for six weeks, we have killed and captured the enemy's leaders, shaping the conditions for success.

"Soon we will clear the Taliban from its safe havens in central Helmand. Where we go, we will stay. Where we stay, we will build.

"We will establish security so that the people are free once more to live their own lives under their own government.

"The next few days will not be without danger. To reduce the risks, you must know your enemy. Avoid the places they would expect you to go. Stay off the tracks. Check vulnerable areas before you enter them. Watch out for propaganda traps. Be first with the truth.

"Above all else protect the people. Defeat the enemy by avoiding civilian casualties. Hold your fire if there is risk to the innocent, even if this puts you in greater danger.

"That kind of restraint requires courage. The courageous restraint you have shown throughout our time in Afghanistan

"Offer an open hand in friendship to those who do not wish to fight. They can join the people of Afghanistan and their Government in rebuilding their society.

"For those who will not shake our hand they will find it closed into a fist. They will be defeated.

"With my Afghan friends, I am proud to be one of your commanders. Together, Operation MOSHTARAK will mark the start of the end of the insurgency. I wish you Godspeed and the best of luck."

Op Moshtarak is the first part of a three-stage plan to increase security in the country.

After the insurgency in the south has been subdued British forces will move to building capacity in the Afghan National Security Forces and this will likely become the main effort later in the year.

The third stage will be transition and the reintegration of insurgents and sympathisers into Afghan society through an Afghan-led reintegration policy.

The Military operations that have begun today in Central Helmand will be followed by the swift establishment of an Afghan government presence in cleared areas. This will be supported by stabilisation activity led by the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team.

A combined military force of 15,000 troops are in involved in Operation Moshtarak. This combined force includes:

-- Approximately five brigades of Afghan forces, including members of the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Afghan Border Police and Afghan Gendarmerie (formerly Afghan National Civil Order Police).

-- ISAF Regional Command (South) elements, with forces drawn from the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia and Canada. These elements include:
* 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines (US)
* 1st Battalion, 6th Marines (US)
* 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines (US)
* 4th Battalion, 23rd IN Stryker (US)
* Combat Engineer Battalion (US)
* Light Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (US)
* 1 Coldstream Guards Battle Group (UK)
* 1 Grenadier Guards Battle Group (UK)
* 1 Royal Welsh Battle Group (UK)
* A Squadron Household Cavalry Regiment
* Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (UK)
* Operational Mentor and Liaison Team (UK)
* Task Force Pegasus
* Task Force Kandahar


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