Canadian trap decimates Taliban fighters


PUBLICATION: Edmonton Journal
DATE: 2006.08.21
BYLINE: Donald McArthur
SOURCE: CanWest News Service


Canadian trap decimates Taliban fighters: Seventy-two insurgents perish in bloody, lopsided nine-hour battle


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Less than three hours after taking command of Canada's battle group in southern Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. Omer Lavoie sprang what amounted to a carefully laid trap on Taliban insurgents that left as many as 72 militants dead with Canadian troops suffering no casualties and Afghan forces only a handful.

It is one of the bloodiest days for the Taliban since its ouster in 2001 and by far the most devastating blow coalition and Afghan forces have struck against the insurgency since assuming command of the volatile south three weeks ago.

The lopsided nine-hour battle occurred near the same disputed ground where four Canadian soldiers were killed and 10 injured in fierce fighting about two weeks ago. It began about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Afghanistan's Independence Day, when insurgents picked a fight with Afghan security forces and were met and routed by a NATO aerial and artillery assault that left the broken bodies of dozens of insurgents in the streets and orchards of Panjwaii -- a Taliban hotbed coalition forces now claim to control.

"The posturing of our forces was very deliberate. The way we postured the forces was based on a high expectation of how we thought the enemy would react to the posture," said Lavoie, who crafted the plan while working beside Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, the battle group commander he replaced in the hours leading up to the fighting.

"They acted the way we expected they would act and became decisively engaged and had insurmountable difficulties breaking contact with us."

NATO officials estimate the Taliban's strength in the south at about 1,000 fighters, which, if accurate, would mean nearly 10 per cent of its force was felled in the fighting that continued -- in "troughs and crests," according to Lavoie -- into the early hours of Sunday.

"A 10-per-cent casualty figure is an extremely big blow to your combat effectiveness," said Lavoie.

The Taliban is known to quickly replenish its diminished ranks by paying and arming impoverished male Afghans of fighting age.

Troops with the Royal Canadian Regiment, mostly from Petawawa, Ont., suffered no casualties in their first major test since arriving during a month-long relief-in-place operation, but reports say anywhere from four to seven Afghan police officers and soldiers were killed. Thousands of civilians have been fleeing fighting in the Panjwaii area in recent months and there were no reports of civilian casualties.

Afghan officials said between 60 and 72 suspected insurgents were killed and NATO included those figures in an official statement which claimed the insurgents in the area had been "defeated." NATO generally refuses to provide estimates on insurgent casualties and provided no tally after the Aug. 3 battle in Panjwaii where four Canadian soldiers were killed.

Lavoie dismissed suggestions the weekend operation, a "deliberate" one, was a form of payback for those deaths and the deaths of other Canadian soldiers in Panjwaii in recent months.

"We don't keep a score card and you certainly don't win counter-insurgency operations through any sort of a body count or a tally," he said.

"It was to deny freedom of action and freedom of movement to insurgent forces in the area and demonstrate that the Afghan national security forces, and the Canadian forces and NATO forces supporting them, do have freedom of movement and control of the area."

Well done boys!
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