Roadside bombs are slowing down Nato’s big offensive in Afghanistan, according to military officials. But they say that US marines are still making steady progress in one of the largest operations since the war began in 2001.
On day three of Operation Moshtarak targeting Taliban strongholds, the soldiers are finding far more booby trapped devices left along the roads than they had expected.
Sergeant Johnny Morris looked at the batch of explosives on the ground in front of him and described his group’s lucky escape.
“All this was wired up to go pretty much at the same time,” he said, “so if we came down this road instead of coming from the east it would have been real bad.“
The deadly minefield left behind by the Taliban is turning the operation into what another soldier described as a “long tough slog”.
The operation in the area around Marjah in southern Helmand province is the first test of President Obama’s new “surge” strategy, sending thirty thousand extra troops to seize areas held by insurgents.
Over the weekend twelve civilians were killed by accident when Nato forces fired rockets which veered off course and hit a house.
President Karzai has called for an investigation into the deaths. At a news conference Nato’s commander General Stanley McChrystal apologised but he defended the operation.
“The first thing I would say is when President Karzai approved the conduct of this operation he gave us some very specific guidance,” said the commander. “That guidance was to continue to protect the people of Afghanistan, and so this operation has been done with that in mind.”
Nato has suspended the use of the rockets involved pending review. But the accident could damage its strategy of trying to drive a wedge between the insurgents and the local population.