There is a potentially eery, disconcerting passage in Dexter Filkins’ interesting report on the Afghan, British and American push into the Taliban stronghold of Marja in Helmand Province.
Filkins notes that the opposition didn’t really materialize, despite reports that they had recently received reinforcements. This may mean that the Taliban are tactically disappearing into the population, a move that the US also saw when fighting in Vietnam.
From Filkins’ article:
On the first full day of operations, much of the expected Taliban resistance failed to materialize. Afghan and NATO troops discovered some bombs, narcotics and weapons caches, but the fighting itself was relatively desultory. There was certainly none of the eyeball-to-eyeball fighting that typified the battle for Falluja in Iraq in 2004, to which the invasion of Marja had been compared.
Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan defense minister, said in a news conference in Kabul that the Afghan Army had suffered no dead at all, and only a handful of wounded. He seemed a little surprised at the day’s events.
“Actually, the resistance is not there,” Mr. Wardak said. “Based on our intelligence reports, some of the Taliban have left the area. But we still expected there to be several hundred in the area. Just yesterday, we received reports that reinforcements had arrived from neighboring provinces.”
It seemed possible that many insurgents had just faded away, or at least were waiting to show themselves. American and Afghan commanders took the unusual step of broadcasting their intention to clear Marja several weeks ago, in hopes that Taliban fighters would leave the city and thus make it easier to take hold of the place.
— Steve Clemons