British and Afghan forces repulsed an attempt by hundreds of Taleban fighters to attack the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, on Saturday night in the most audacious Taliban attack in the province since 2006.
A vehicle destroyed in the fire-fight: more than 100 Taleban were killed
Up to 100 Taleban fighters were killed in a series of airstrikes and firefights around the city outskirts in fighting that began in the early evening as Taleban fighters were concentrating to attack the city of three sides and continued into the early hours of Sunday morning.
It was the first time that the Helmand capital has been attacked.
The Taleban plan appeared to be for a “Tet Offensive” style infiltration of the city, the seat of the Afghan provincial government and home to the headquarters of the British commander in Helmand and the civilian reconstruction component of the British mission in Helmand.
Had the infiltration succeeded then British and Afghan forces would have faced confused street fighting in which Western airstrikes would have been impossible without the risk of causing mass civilian deaths in the city.
A British army spokesman said that the Taleban operation displayed “a level of co-ordination that wasn’t expected.” He estimated the Taleban forces at around 170, though some Afghan estimates were much higher.
However, British officials insisted that there was absolutely no threat of the British base falling. “Whatever their military objectives were, we didn’t get to find them out, because they were defeated on the edge of the city” said the Helmand Task Force spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Woody Page.
“At around 1700hours we detected terrorist vehicles moving in just to the west of the river (on the western edge of Lashkar Gah). By 1730 there were three or four separate groupings. There appeared to be a plan to attack on three different sides, with a blocking force on the fourth side. We waited until the terrorists were concentrated and then attacked with maximum effect,” he added.
The British Army spokesman said that an initial airstrike in a wooded area called Bolan, west of the city, killed 27 Taleban fighters and injured approximately the same number.
There were then follow up strikes by British Apache ground attack helicopters on further concentrations of Taleban fighters. Afghan National Army and Police were also involved in ground skirmishes around the city limits which continued until 3am on Sunday morning.
Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Helmand governor Gulab Mangal said that 62 Taleban fighters were killed but that the number could rise.
“Afghan National Security Forces did a really good job of limiting the Taleban to the outskirts of the city,” said Colonel Page. “It is impossible to say if the target was the British PRT, though it is a possibility.”
October 12, 2008
Tom Coghlan in Kabul
Source: The Telegraph