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Friday, September 08, 2006

The other sandbox

The Nato force in the south will consist of 8,000 soldiers

Tough task ahead for Nato troops

By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kandahar

The shaky video footage shows British troops making a hard landing in their Chinook helicopter. You hear the drama, rather than see it.

The Kandahar ceremony in which responsibility was handed over the Nato troops
The Nato force in the south will consist of 8,000 soldiers

It is pitch black - even the night vision does not pick up the landing as two rocket propelled grenades fizz past the helicopter.

There is the sound of gunfire all around as the troops fan out on the ground, the infrared lights on the backs of their helmets picked up on the grainy, green camera image.

Air support comes - rockets and high calibre machine gunfire.

It is a major operation to hit known Taleban compounds and try to secure a town where a small British unit has been bombarded for weeks.

Different tactics

While the towns the British troops have "secured" are quiet for now, it is difficult to know if the Taleban have really been battled into submission, or if they have hidden away their guns, blended back into the civilian population and are waiting to begin their campaign again at a later stage.

It is incredibly difficult to know who is a militant and who is not, if they are not pointing a gun at the international forces.

In Helmand the tactic has been large-scale fighting. In Kandahar it is more of an insurgency, using suicide bombers or explosive devices left by the side of the road to target international troops.

In other provinces the status quo is yet to be broken.

In Uruzgan, it is the Dutch and Australians who will have to go through the process of pushing out into militant strongholds - something that has already cost the British, Canadian and American commands here a number of lives.

The Nato force will have to overcome the insurgency on all levels if it to bring the security which it believes will win over the people, persuade them to reject the Taleban fighters and accept a rule of law laid down from Kabul.

In provinces where a huge percentage of Afghanistan's opium poppies are grown and where warlords have had the run of the place for years and enjoy the insecurity, it will not be easy.

The fighting captured on the grainy night-vision cameras will continue. Only when security is improved will Nato commanders be able to start the longer-term, more crucial part of the mission.

It will not be easy, and for the reputation of Nato, its 36 partner nations, and for the "war on terror" it is a mission it cannot afford to fail.

The US cannot demand much more of NATO when their forces are locked up in Iraq. There's a limit to what NATO can do, militarily and politically.

posted by Steve @ 1:01:00 AM

1:01:00 AM

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