Failure of the 82nd airborne

  • From: "" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: news@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sat, 21 Dec 2002 22:25:30 +0000 (GMT)

As the US prepares for war on Iraq, its troops in
Afghanistan are coming under increasing attack from
the forces they were sent to dig out 

American forces in Afghanistan have suffered a series
of setbacks during 2002, and a year after the fall of
the Taliban the US army is under almost daily attack
in its bases in eastern Afghanistan. In the latest
incident, in Kabul yesterday, two American soldiers
were seriously injured in a grenade attack. 
The main US force in the country is the 82nd airborne
division, which is based at Bagram near Kabul. There
are secondary bases at and around Khost in eastern
Afghanistan, some 20 miles from the Pakistan border.
Since mid-September US forces based in this area have
been increased to more than 2,000, from just a few
hundred earlier in the year, with a full battalion of
parachute infantry at the new base of Camp Salerno
outside Khost. 

Several US-led attacks, using hundreds and even
thousands of troops, have been ineffective, suffered
outright defeat, or resulted in disaster. These
failures have led the US to keep its forces mostly
inside their bases: at Khost and Kandahar they are
under attack almost daily from missiles and machine

When it was launched in March, the US gave Operation
Anaconda maximum publicity. It was supposed to crush
remaining al-Qaida forces. Locally recruited Afghans
were trained to act as "beaters", driving al-Qaida
from its high mountain caves on to the guns of US
soldiers lying in ambush. The reality was that it was
the US army that was ambushed. 

According to the Washington Post and other US reports,
the plan was betrayed to the enemy through the Afghan
militias. At a dozen mountain passes, al-Qaida
attacked US and allied forces as they jumped from
their helicopters to take up what they thought would
be their own ambush positions. So intense was the
enemy fire that for two days the US could not fly in
helicopters to support its own troops, who remained
pinned down in vicious fighting. The US had eight men
killed and 100 wounded before al-Qaida pulled back. 

After proclaiming the operation a complete success,
the US announced that no more operations of this kind
would be undertaken. During the summer, the units
involved - the 101st air assault and 10th mountain -
were replaced by the 82nd airborne. This is the most
highly trained infantry unit in the US army, and one
Pentagon planners would prefer to have available for

It began operations intended to dig out enemy forces
from the villages of eastern Afghanistan. Newsweek
described as "a disaster" its first high-profile
mission, quoting other US troops and civilian
witnesses. They said that 600 soldiers had gone on the
rampage in Operation Mountain Sweep, undoing in
minutes six months of community building. They went
through villages "as if Bin Laden was in every house",
said one of the US army's own special forces soldiers.
So serious were the complaints from other units about
the conduct of the 82nd airborne that the army took
sworn statements from all the officers and senior NCOs
involved. The civilian casualties have not been
accounted for. The 82nd is continuing to conduct
cordon and search operations and has reduced media

One senior US editor told me he had been prevented by
his own organisation from filing reports on the
futility and brutality of US operations. He said the
only comparison in US military history was with a
punitive expedition into Mexico conducted by General
Pershing in 1915. This produced virtually no results
after months searching the desolate Mexican
countryside in search of Pancho Villa, chasing up
false leads provided by the local population. 

Former British officers well informed on the Afghan
operations are concerned at the US approach. British
troops are trained to operate according to rules of
engagement governing when it is considered acceptable
to shoot to kill. This approach is designed to ensure
that force is used to help achieve wider political
goals. In the US army this kind of fine-tuning is not
regarded as relevant. 

Despite its power, the US has not been able to prevent
its bases in Afghanistan from coming under frequent
attack. Mostly, these achieve little more than keeping
the troops in their dugouts. From time to time, as
yesterday, a few soldiers are wounded and trucks blown

Containing the violence at this relatively low level
could be considered a victory in itself but it will be
hard to keep the lid on indefinitely. At the same
time, the vaunted claim not to have once more left
Afghanistan in the lurch is looking increasingly
hollow. Some aid has been delivered, but its impact
has been negated by the actions of US forces in
alienating the population. 

US strategy appears to be limited to continuing to pay
local warlords to keep the peace, but these efforts
have not even been enough to get control of the opium
crop, which has this year produced some 2,000 tons of
heroin destined for our streets. 

A fresh brigade of the 82nd airborne arrives in
Afghanistan this month, and early next year the
Germans and Dutch, with Nato help, will take over in
Kabul. Under pressure from President Karzai, the
Pentagon is now considering setting up a dozen new
bases around Afghanistan to liaise with local warlords
and assist in delivering aid. A B52 strike was called
in to support US soldiers as they prepared one of the
first of these new operations in the Herat region. 

The risk is that, given the US's negative reputation,
these new outposts will also come under attack,
destabilising rather than stabilising the country. 

Source:  The Guardian

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