29 april 2007

Afghanistan: Mere aggressiv anvendelse af helikoptere skaber resultater

Talebans nederlag til amerikanske kamphelikoptere, der kostede dem 11 dræbte rapporterede jeg allerede om i går. Idag en artikel om det skift i anvendelsen af amerikanske kamphelikoptere, der indtil videre har afværget den længe frygtede Talibanske forårsoffensiv:

American commanders believe that the uncompromising use of airpower in recent weeks has been a key factor in preventing the Taliban from launching their expected full-scale spring offensive against coalition forces and forcing them to rethink their tactics.

Aircrews say they have been told to show no mercy, but to press home their advantage until all their targets have been destroyed. The Apache attack was one of five in three days in -Helmand, where British troops operate alongside a much smaller contingent of American infantry and special forces.

Capt Staley, the commander of the Apache unit based at Kandahar airfield, described how his helicopters had arrived just after an ambush by Taliban fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, on a detachment of American special forces and an infantry unit. In the second Apache, 1st Lt Jack Denton, 26, was in radio contact with the special forces unit, Scorpion 36, on the ground.

The soldiers said they had information that the Taliban were escaping across the river. "Look out for any boats," they said. He spotted a small aluminium fishing boat pushing out from the eastern shore of the 200-yard-wide river. In it were six or seven people. When they caught sight of the Apaches, they started to paddle back towards shore.

The aircrew hesitated. "It seemed a little premature," said Lt Denton. "We didn't have hostile intent or a positive ID from the ground commander." But the special forces soldiers were adamant that, although they could not themselves see the men on the boat, they must be the Taliban who had attacked them. That, said Lt Denton, was good enough for the Apache crews.

By then, most of the men were ashore, walking quickly towards the tree line. They appeared to be pulling clothing over their heads - burqas, Capt Staley thought, and Lt Denton concurred. As the helicopters came in to attack, Lt Denton said, one of the men turned to face him and dropped to his knees. "I think he knew that there was no hope," he said. "He was making his peace."

Capt Staley's helicopter hit them with its rockets while Lt Denton, the gunner in the other helicopter, opened up with his 30mm cannon. Three or four of the Taliban died where they stood and the rest made a dash for the trees. "They were trying to get to their bunkers," Capt Staley said. "We started a diving run and destroyed four of the six people we could see, including the Taliban commander."...

As the Apaches came in for another run, Capt Staley said, he saw the muzzle flashes of automatic weapons among the trees. A rocket-propelled grenade screamed towards his helicopter, but it passed by harmlessly.

The Apaches made eight attacking runs and, by the end, the bodies of 14 Taliban littered the shore. Another two were spotted floating down the river. Any survivors did not hang about. "They usually extricate their dead but this time they left them there," Capt Staley said.

American intelligence named the dead commander as Mullah Najibullah, who, they said, had been responsible for leading attacks against British forces in and around the town of Sangin, in Helmand.

...Capt Staley said he had no qualms about pressing home such attacks until no one was left standing and claimed that American pilots were more effective than their British Apache counterparts, who he said flew higher and were less ruthless
in finishing off their targets. "The Brits are good but they don't have the
extreme aggression that we do."...

On Monday, the Apaches struck again, killing 12 Taliban whom they had caught in the open near Qalat, in Zabul province.

Lt Denton and Capt Staley were in one of the two-man aircraft, escorting two Black Hawk helicopters, when they spotted eight motorcycles, with a rider and passenger on each. It seemed unusual and the Apache broke away to take a closer look.

Dropping to 200ft, it swooped close to the motorcyclists - and the two men could not believe their luck: some of the passengers were holding the parts of a long-barrelled
heavy machine-gun.

Six of the bikes slewed to a stop, their passengers leaping off and aiming their weapons at the helicopter in what appeared to be a well-practised drill, while the others took off across country. The Apache banked away to begin its attack run.

"Some of them were trying to get the heavy machine-gun up a small hill to engage us," Lt Denton said. "Capt Staley used the 30mm gun to take out the two guys who had taken off, and then we fixed on the ones with the heavy machine-gun. They were huddled around a large boulder and we shot them. We put as many rounds around it as we could, because if they got to it they could cause us trouble. But they
never had a chance to set it up."

Using its cannon and then its rockets, the Apache finished off all the Taliban fighters it could find, then launched nail-filled rockets and dropped white phosphorous to destroy the motorcycles and the machine guns. After the shooting stopped, 12 Taliban were confirmed dead.

Not surprisingly, the Apache assaults have forced the Taliban to adopt a lower profile.

Den britiske avis The Telegraph har en artikel online, hvor den mere aggressive brug af kamphelikoptere sættes i sammenhæng med, at briterne efter amerikansk pres opgav deres fejlslagne politik med at indgå våbenhviler med lokale ældster, bare for siden at se Talebanerne indtage områderne der var dækket af våbenhviler uden kamp. Blandt andet byen Musa Qala, som danske soldater ellers havde holdt mod konstante Taleban-angreb blev tabt på denne måde:
British commanders made ceasefire deals with local leaders in a number of areas of Helmand last year, arguing that a halt in the fighting would strengthen the hand of the tribal elders. But America believed that the ceasefires merely allowed the Taliban time to re-arm and reinforce its positions, and American commanders and diplomats criticised the deals.

The American ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, criticised the British decision to pull out of Musa Qala in northern Helmand last year and he appeared to be vindicated when the town was taken over by the Taliban in February.

Lt Andrea Anthony, the intelligence officer for the 82nd Airborne Division's Task Force Corsair - which includes the Apache helicopter gunship force - said last week that American commanders had adopted a more aggressive approach, out of concern for what was happening on the ground.

"It was difficult for the Brits to have the support they needed," she said. "The ground elements in Helmand were so isolated that they would get shot at and mortared.

"That has changed now. It was a case of having friendly guys there, and we needed to go out and take care of them. You can only lose so many guys before you say, 'This is ridiculous, we are going to do something about it'."

The US airborne task force consists of six Apaches, based at Kandahar, in the neighbouring province to Helmand. Although the British now have a similar number of attack helicopters in Helmand, pressure is such that the Americans felt it necessary to intervene.

Lt Col Dan Huggins, the commanding officer of the airborne task force, said: "Helmand was at a point where the Taliban got too comfortable. They had too much freedom of movement."

Yesterday, Lt Col Charlie Mayo, a spokesman for British forces in Helmand, accepted that the Americans might have been concerned that British troops had been left isolated. He said he did not know who took the final decision on the change of tactics, but said British commanders had agreed that the time had come to mount more aggressive operations.


Etiketter: ,