5 years, 10 months ago
It was Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser who initially pointed out that the Taliban would be active this winter despite the common perceptions of a stand down in operations due to the weather.
American troops in Afghanistan will step up offensive operations this winter because insurgents are increasingly staying in the country to prepare for spring attacks, a U.S. commander told The Associated Press.
Maj. Gen. Jeffery J. Schloesser said a 40 percent surge in violence in April and May was fueled in part by militants preparing stores of weapons during the winter, which generally is a slow period for fighting, particularly in snowy Afghan mountainous areas.
“If we don’t do anything over the winter the enemy will more and more try to seek safe haven in Afghanistan rather than going back to Pakistan,” Schloesser said …
He said the U.S. military realized more militants spent last winter in Afghanistan after speaking with elders and villagers who had been pushed out of their homes. The spike in violence in the spring occurred because insurgents were already in position to unleash attacks, though U.S. officials didn’t know it at the time, he said.
“They didn’t have to come over the passes, they were already here,” Schloesser said during an interview while flying in a Black Hawk helicopter Monday to a small U.S. outpost in Nuristan, a province that borders Pakistan.
Now he is reiterating this position, but adding a new twist concerning the capabilities of U.S. forces and the intent to interdict Taliban operations.
A top U.S. general said he expects militant violence in Afghanistan to rise some 30 percent this winter compared with last year, but that he does not think insurgents have the ability to mount a massive campaign during the country’s harsh weather.
Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser said the U.S. will attack militant cells in areas of Afghanistan where U.S. forces in some cases haven’t operated before but where officials now realize “the enemy is seeking to remain as a rest and facilitation area in the winter.”
Winter has traditionally been seen as a down time for fighting in Afghanistan, but Schloesser said offensive operations by U.S. troops this year could dispel that notion.
U.S. troops will “take advantage of our mobility and capacity to operate in the snow and to be able to find the enemy,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday.
Militants will have the option to be “captured, killed, to reconcile or flee,” the general said. “And I think fleeing will be very hard in the winter, especially if they’re in flip flops or sandals.”
In January 2007, U.S. airstrikes killed some 120 militants crossing the border on foot from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and a video of the attack taken by a drone showed that many of the insurgents — who were walking in a single-file line through mountainous terrain — were barefoot.
Schloesser said he thinks militants are now better equipped with boots and sleeping bags but don’t have the ability to conduct complex operations in deep snow or freezing weather.
Schloesser clearly intends to use the weather as a force multiplier. But many of the insurgents are at home in Kandahar or other smaller villages in Southern Afghanistan, with families, history, homes and experience in the bitter winters. For these fighters there is no need to traipse through the countryside looking for a place to throw a sleeping bag for the night.
Time will tell if the these good intentions come to pass, but expect it to be a tough winter for U.S. troops – frostbite, frost-jamming of the tight tolerances of the action in the M16A2 and SAWs, and the inability to detect IED emplacements due to muddy and snow-covered terrain. On this last example, the Taliban have shown an adaptability that can prove menacing. “Western field commanders readily acknowledge that the Taliban and their allies learn from failures as well as successes. When Taliban fighters noticed that western forces were jamming the signals they used to detonate roadside bombs, they switched back to pressure plates that would be set off by a passing convoy.”
But scores of Taliban have been killed too. If the U.S. command has their way, it’ll be a tougher winter for the Taliban.