Coalition combat operations in Afghanistan in 2006

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In January 2006, NATO’s focus in southern Afghanistan was to form Provincial Reconstruction Teams with the British leading in Helmand Province and the Netherlands and Canada would lead similar deployments in Orūzgān Province and Kandahar Province respectively. The Americans with 2,200 troops stayed in control of Zabul Province. Local Taliban figures voiced opposition to the incoming force and pledged to resist it. [1]

NATO expands in southern Afghanistan

From January 2006, a NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) force started to replace U.S troops in southern Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The British 16th Air Assault Brigade (later reinforced by Royal Marines) formed the core of the force in Southern Afghanistan, along with troops and helicopters from Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial force consisted of roughly 3,300 British, [2] 2,500 Canadian, [3] 1,963 from the Netherlands, [4] 280 from Denmark, [5] 240 from Australia, [6] and 150 from Estonia [7]. Air support was provided by US, British, Dutch, Norwegian and French combat aircraft and helicopters.

Southern Afghanistan has faced in 2006 the deadliest spate in violence in the country since the ousting of the Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces in 2001, as the newly deployed NATO troops have battled resurgent militants. Operation Mountain Thrust was launched on May 17, 2006 with the purposes of rooting out Taliban forces. [8] Canadians were one of the leading combatants and the first fighting when the Battle of Panjwaii took place. Complex mud-walled compounds made the rural Panjwaii district take on an almost urban style of fighting in some places. Daily firefights, artillery bombardments, and allied airstrikes turned the tides of the battle in favour of the Canadians. On July 3, 2006 it was reported that British Army leaders were warning Prime Minister Tony Blair that victory was not yet certain in Afghanistan, and were calling for more reinforcements. [9] More than 1,100 Taliban fighters were killed and almost 400 captured in the month and a half long operation.

In July 2006, command of the international forces in southern Afghanistan was passed to NATO forces under the command of British General David J. Richards. Regional command in the south was led by Canadian General David Fraser. In November, 2006 Dutch Major-General Ton van Loon took over NATO Regional Command South in Afghanistan for a six months period from the Canadians. [10]

Canadian Forces, which came under NATO command at the end of July, launched Operation Medusa in an attempt to clear the areas of Taliban fighters once and for all. The fighting of Operation Medusa led the way to the second, and most fierce Battle of Panjwaii in which daily gun-battles, ambushes, and mortar/rocket attacks were targeting the Canadian troops. The Taliban had massed with an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 fighters. The Taliban were reluctant to give up the area, and after being surrounded by the Canadian Forces, they dug in and fought a more conventional style battle. After weeks of fighting, the Taliban had been cleared from the Panjwaii area and Canadian reconstruction efforts in the area began. NATO reported it had killed more than 500 suspected Taliban fighters. [11] During Operation Medusa, the Canadians were supported by US, British, Dutch and Danish forces. The Dutch PzH 2000 howitzer made its combat debut with the Dutch Army as artillery fire support [12].

A major NATO offensive called Operation Mountain Fury was launched in September 2006 to clear Taliban rebels from the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. The fighting was intense with a number of coalition casualties and heavy Taliban loses.

Along with the Canadians and Dutch, the British have been a major contributor to the expanded NATO mission in southern Afghanistan. Operation Veritas was the codename used for British military operations against the Taliban government of Afghanistan in 2001 , British forces playing a supporting role to the Americans from the start of operations. Since 2006, British forces expanded as part of Operation Herrick. In 2006, around 5,000 British Armed Forces personnel deployed to Afghanistan, particularly the province of Helmand. Sangin District in particular has been the location of heavy fighting involving British forces.

NATO forces began reconstruction efforts after major combat operations of Operation Medusa had ceased. But the British and Canadians still encountered fierce fighting. The Canadian involment in operation Mountain Fury was stepped up when they mounted an operation of their own called Operation Falcon's Summit on December 15, 2006. During Falcon Summit, the Canadians gained control of several key villages and towns that were former Taliban havens, such as Howz-E Madad. During the first week of the operation, massive Canadian artillery and tank barrages were carried out in a successful attempt to clear pockets of Taliban resistance.

An analysis of the coalition casualty figures from 1 May to 12 August 2006 by Sheila Bird, vice-president of the UK's Royal Statistical Society, revealed that during the period, an average of five coalition soldiers were killed every week by the Taliban, twice the death rate suffered during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[13]

The fighting for NATO forces was intense throughout the second half of 2006. NATO has been successful in achieving tactical victories over the Taliban and denied areas to them, but the Taliban have not been completely defeated and NATO had had to continue operations into 2007.

Air support

Reflecting the increased pace of operations, Royal Air Force (RAF) Harrier GR7A close air support aircraft saw a large increase in munitions (CRV7 rockets and laser guided bombs) used supporting ground forces since July 2006. Between July and September, the theatre total for munitions deployed by British Harriers on planned operations and Close Air Support to ground forces rose from 179 to 539. [14]

As well as the RAF and US aircraft, air support is also provided by Dutch and Norwegian F-16s [15] [16] and French Dassault Mirage 2000D ground attack aircraft. AH-64 Apache attack helicopters from the Netherlands, the UK and the USA support NATO and Afghan National Army troops.

Vital for coalition success are transport helicopters to support isolated units and avoid roadside improvised explosive devices as well as to conduct medical evacuations. Transport helicopters were provided by the Netherlands, the UK and the USA. C-130 transport aircraft also provide theatre transport.

On 2 September 14 UK personnel were killed when an RAF Nimrod MR2 crashed; initial reports were that mechanical failure was responsible.[17]

Kandahar Airfield had come under Taliban rocket attacks and American, British, Danish, Portuguese and Romanian airfield protection troops guard the key NATO facility.

Casualties

The increased intensity of operations has seen an increase in coalition casualties. Since the war began in 2001, the Canadian Forces have suffered sixty killed, 38 of those in 2006. In 2006, 24 British soldiers and marines have been killed and a further one marine, one soldier and 12 airmen in a Royal Air Force Nimrod crash in Afghanistan. US military personnel have also been killed in support of NATO operations, 17 in 2006, as well as two Italians and one Romanian soldier. Operation Mountain Fury saw 71 Afghan National Army soldiers killed. A Dutch F-16 pilot also died in an air-crash.

Taliban killed in action are difficult to verify, but around 2,700 are estimated to have died during Operation Mountain Thrust, Operation Medusa and Operation Mountain Fury.

The increase in fighting in southern Afghanistan inevitably resulted in increased civilian casualties in the region.
Main article: Civilian casualties of the War in Afghanistan (2001–present)

Criticism of some NATO allies

Despite the deployment of British and Dutch forces (and smaller forces from smaller European countries such as Denmark and Estonia), the Canadians have shown frustration at the lack of support from other major European NATO countries. [18] Britain’s defence secretary Des Browne shared criticism of those NATO allies for not sharing the burden. [19]

Germany has ISAF ground troops in Afghanistan, but in the more secure north and resisted calls to help NATO forces in the south. France also has troops in the more secure north, and has deployed special forces and made available close air support aircraft for operations in the south, but also did not deploy significant ground troops to the south.

Coalition order of battle

Not all ISAF troops are involved in combat operations. This is a list of NATO and partner nation units involved in PRTs in southern Afghanistan and most heavily engaged in combat operations.

Australia

Australia is not a NATO nation but worked closely with Dutch forces. A Reconstruction Taskforce based around the 1st Combat Engineer Regiment with protective elements from the 5th/7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, 6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and 2nd Cavalry Regiment. A detachment of two CH-47 Chinook helicopters from the 5th Aviation Regiment was deployed to Afghanistan in March 2006 to support the Australian Special Forces Task Group. The Special Forces Task Group was withdrawn from Afghanistan in September 2006.

Canada

Roughly 2,500 Canadian Forces personnel deployed in Afghanistan, mostly based in Kandahar. Core ground force units included the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment and the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. The Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) operated Leopard tanks. 'D' Battery, 2nd Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery currently provides artillery support for Canadians and coalition alike.

Denmark

390 of which 316 operating out of Camp Bastion under the command of RC(S).

Estonia

150 ground toops. Pictures

France

The French Air force had Dassault Mirage 2000Ds deployed at Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to support coalition forces in Afghanistan, from the ‘EC 03.003’ Ardennes unit.

Netherlands

The Netherlands deployed 1,963 troops to Uruzgan province at southern Afghanistan at Tarin Kowt (1,200), at Kamp Holland, and Deh Rahwod (200). The soldiers of Task Force Uruzgan are mostly from the 12 Infanteriebataljon Regiment Van Heutsz suplemented with soldiers from 44 Pantserinfanteriebataljon Regiment Johan Willem Friso and the 42 Tankbataljon Regiment Huzaren Prins van Oranje. PzH 2000 self propolled artillery pieces have been deployed and used in combat for the first time.

An undisclosed number of Special Forces (KCT) also operate in combat roles.

Royal Netherlands Air Force support consists of six F-16 ground-attack aircraft (stationed at Kandahar Air Field), six Eurocopter Cougar transport helicopters of 300 Squadron stationed at Kandahar Airfield and six AH-64 attack helicopters of 301 Squadron at Camp Holland in Tarin Kowt.

Norway

Norway deployed four F-16 ground attack jets alongside Dutch F-16s. [20] The detachment is know as the 1st Netherlands-Norwegian European Participating Forces Expeditionary Air Wing (1 NLD/NOR EEAW) [21]

Portugal

Portuguese Paratroopers help guard Kandahar Airfield. Portuguese Commandos help in Operation Hoover.

Romania

Romanian troops from the 341st Infantry Battalion were based with the Canadians in Kandahar. Romanian airfield protection troops help guard Kandahar Airfield. As of 2007, Romania provides a Battle Group in Zabul Province.

United Kingdom

There were approximately 4,000 British armed forces personnel deployed in the south. The core British formation was the 16 Air Assault Brigade and that was replaced by Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade. These troops have since been replaced by the 12 Mechanized Brigade with total UK personnel approaching 7,000.

Air support was provided by 9 Regiment Army Air Corps (equipped with the Westland WAH-64 Apache) and the Royal Air Force (RAF)/Royal Navy Joint Force Harrier operating Harrier GR7 close air support and reconnaissance aircraft. RAF C-130 transport aircraft and CH-47 Chinook helicopters also deployed. Troops from 34 Squadron RAF Regiment assist with the protection of Kandahar Airfield.

United States

In 2006 the US 10th Mountain Division supported NATO during Operation Mountain Fury. US special forces and air assets have been available to NATO, as well as supporting non-NATO US missions.

In 2006, US air assets included B-1 Lancer bombers of the 9th Expeditionary Bomber Squadron and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing One operating from the USS Enterprise (CVN-65).

See also

References and external links

North Atlantic Treaty Organization
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Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) is a special military unit that provides security and helps with reconstruction in unstable nations. PRTs first began in Afghanistan in late 2001 or early 2002 followed by Iraq in 2003.
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Helmand (Pashto: هلمند) is one of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan. It is in the south-west of the country. Its capital is Lashkar Gah. The Helmand River flows through the mainly desert region, providing water diverted for irrigation.
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Kandahar or Qandahar (Persian:قندهار Pashto: کندھار) is one of the largest of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan. Located in the south of the country, its capital is the city of Kandahar.
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Zabul (Pashto: زابل) is a historic province of Afghanistan. Zabul became an independent province from neighbouring Kandahar in 1963, with Qalat being named the provincial capital. It should not be confused with Zabol in Iran.
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International Security Assistance Force (10) (ISAF) is the name of a NATO-led security and development mission in Afghanistan which was established by the United Nations Security Council on 20 December 2001[1]
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Total:
144 killed,
106 wounded,
43 captured Total:
1,134 killed,
387 captured

Operation Mountain Thrust was a U.S. commanded, Canadian and U.S.-led operation in the Afghanistan campaign, with more than 2,300 U.S.
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