On Wednesday, spokesmen for the Afghan Defense Ministry and for the NATO forces announced at a news conference that an offensive involving thousands of troops would begin in the near future, and while they did not confirm the place, they also did not dispute widespread speculation that the target was the Taliban-held town of Marja.
The deliberate publicizing of the offensive â€” with news conferences, press releases and public pronouncements â€” is relatively unusual for the military. There could be several strategic benefits â€” and risks. If Taliban were to withdraw in advance of the offensive and civilians had ample warning, there could be fewer military and civilian casualties.
â€œIn some cases it may make sense, with a population-centered strategy, to give an awareness where U.S. and Afghan forces are going, and give an opportunity for Taliban and insurgent forces to clear out,â€ said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation senior political scientist who specializes in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the American military commander in Afghanistan, has emphasized a counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on reducing civilian casualties and convincing the local population that the Americans and NATO can protect them.
Afghan military officials and Marja residents say that the area has been heavily leafleted to warn civilians that an offensive is coming.
But forewarning also gives the Taliban an opportunity to escape and regroup elsewhere, as insurgents in Iraq did after the 2004 American Marine assault on Falluja. That assault was also widely expected, and the timing generally known within days. Already, Mr. Jones said, there have been reports of Taliban militants filtering out of Marja. Alternatively, the Taliban could fortify their defenses and plant explosives around the area.
2010-02-04 16:52:22 UTC