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Operation Moshtarak (Dari for Together or Joint) was an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) pacification offensive in the town of Marja, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. It involved 15,000 American, Afghan, Canadian, Estonian, Danish and British troops and constituted the largest joint operation of the War in Afghanistan up to that point and aimed to remove the Taliban from Marja and eliminate the last Taliban stronghold in central Helmand Province.[10] The main target of the offensive was the town of Marja, which had been controlled for years by the Taliban as well as drug traffickers. Although Moshtarak was described as the largest in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, it was originally supposed to be the prelude to a much larger offensive in Kandahar that would follow Moshtarak by several months.[11] However ISAF chose to heavily publicize the operation before it was launched, comparing its scope and size to the 2004 Second Battle of Fallujah, in the hopes that Taliban fighters in the town would flee.[12] The operation was also designed to showcase improvements in both the Afghan government and Afghan security forces. ISAF claimed that the operation was "Afghan-led" would use five Afghan brigades.[13] General Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of ISAF, also promised that following the offensive ISAF would install a "government in a box" in Marja.[14]

Although initially successful, ISAF and the Afghans failed to set up a working government in the town, leading to a successful resurgence by the Taliban; 90 days into the offensive General McChrystal famously referred to it as a "bleeding ulcer".[15][16] In October the town was still described as "troubling",[17] but by early December the fighting there was declared "essentially over".[18]

Strategic meaning

The operation was called "a key test" of the coalition strategy against the Taliban insurgency.[19][20][21] Brigadier James Cowan, the commander of British forces in Helmand, believed it would mark "the start of the end of this insurgency". At the very least it would become a test of whether the Afghan forces would be able to make their country peaceful and safe.[22]

The announcement of the operation was also a part of this strategy: "shaping the information battlefield strategic communications",[23] and to ensure it would not repeat the destruction of Fallujah in Iraq in 2004.[24] Hours before the offensive began, Afghan and coalition forces dropped leaflets with the message, "Do not allow the Taliban to enter your home".[25][26]

After this operation in Helmand province, the neighbouring province and the city of Kandahar became a target of American operations.[27] In March 2010, U.S. and NATO commanders released details of plans for the biggest offensive of the war against the Taliban insurgency.[28]

New war model

When launched, the operation was called a "new war model". Afghan and NATO officials had assembled a large team of Afghan administrators and an Afghan governor that would move into Marja after the fighting, with more than 1,900 police standing by. "We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in", said American commander Stanley McChrystal.[29][30] The capture of Marja was intended to serve as a prototype for a new type of military operation.[31] The Afghan government had pledged to hold any territory seized in the Taliban heartland during the assault. Utilities engineers were on hand to ensure power and water supplies were maintained.[32]

Timeline of battle


As early as September 2009, Canadian soldiers from 3 Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry began training about 400 Afghan National Army recruits for the operation.[33] Since January 2010, coalition forces had launched smaller "shaping operations" to prepare for the main assault on February 13. One of these operations was a series of "find, fix, strike" raids by four-man SAS teams and U.S. Army Special Forces team ODA 1231. These resulted in the deaths of 50 Taliban leaders in the area according to NATO, but didn't seem to have any real adverse effect on the Taliban's operations.[citation needed] In another operation, the Scots Guards and Grenadier Guards captured a bomb factory and defused 20 IEDs.[citation needed] The Afghan public was warned of the upcoming operation, in line with new rules of engagement for British forces, called "courageous restraint." The tactic, conceived by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal and British Major General Nick Carter,[34] required soldiers to "use brain-power rather than fire-power" and hoped to reduce damage to the Afghan population (in terms of collateral and life cost) by using fewer munitions and support measures. 11 Light Brigade, the main British formation in Helmand for use in the counter-insurgency role tested the doctrine in some of the more heavily populated areas in Helmand.[34]

The publicity and the new tactics intended to prevent the loss of civilians, and to persuade insurgents to lay down their arms. The operation was the first in Helmand since the surge of 30,000 U.S. troops and additional British reinforcements in late 2009/early 2010.[35]

The main force was the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Task Force Leatherneck) as well as British Soldiers from 1 Coldstream Guards Battle Group, 1 Grenadier Guards Battle Group, 1 Royal Welsh Battle Group;elements of the United States Army; and Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces.[35]

British Forces focused on the Lashkar Gah district and Nad Ali district, and U.S. forces on the town of Marja. U.S. assault forces included the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines and 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, and elements of 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion and 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion[36][37][38] The operation also intended to cut the opium trade. Its main aim was to ensure that captured ground can be held by British and American troops, enabling the Afghan government and civilian aid agencies and military contractors to work more effectively in the province.[35]

A majority of the US forces were inserted by CH-53 and MV-22 helicopters, while the rest conducted a ground assault. The Canadian Forces focused on the air assault with seven helicopters, including three CH-147 Chinook escorted by four CH-146 Griffon. The Joint Task Force Afghanistan (JTF-Afg)[39] ferried about 1,100 coalition troops to Nad Ali District in the largest air assault ever conducted with Canadian helicopters.[40][41][42] 33 other coalition helicopters, supported by fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles, also participated in the operation with a total of 11 waves of troop drops.[43]

Ahead of the military operation, hundreds of civilian families fled Marja and its surroundings and were displaced from their homes due to the offensive by NATO and their Afghan partners.[44][45] The town was suspected to be "one of the biggest, most dangerous minefields NATO forces have ever faced," and hundreds of the beleaguered insurgents could insist to fight until death.[46]

Late December and Early January

By early January the surge forces which President Obama had announced on December 1, 2009 had arrived in country. The bulk of the Marine forces included the 1st and 3rd Battalion of the 6th Marine Regiment. They quickly setup command at Camp Dwyer, south of Marjah. They were joined with Afghan Army units and began training and preparing for their mission in Marjah.[47][48]

Late January and Early February

As the assault drew near, US and coalition forces began to encircle the city in order to screen those entering and exiting, gather intelligence, and deceive the enemy as to the avenue of approach for the well publicized assault. 1st Battalion, 6th Marines moved command to Fire Base Fiddlers Green, home of 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines just southeast of Marjah; 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines built temporary Camp Belleau Wood just northwest of the city ; and Bravo Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion and Alpha Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion filled the desert to the west.

February 9, 2010

In preparation for the major offensive, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines seized the "Five Points" junction east of Marja on the road to Lashkar Gah. Elements of Charlie Company were inserted by air under cover of darkness, while elements of Bravo Company, along with 1/3's Combat Engineer Platoon, traveled 9 kilometers on foot from their bases in the Nawa district, sweeping the road for explosive devices.[49] While repelling Taliban assaults, the Marines built a combat outpost, completed on February 14, that they named COP Reilly.[50] The 1/3 Marines held COP Reilly until February 25, when Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines arrived to take control of the position.[51]

February 13, 2010

February 12, 2010, distribution of leaflets over Helmand Province by the U.S. military

1st Battalion, 6th Marines board CH-53E Super Stallion on February 13

US Marines and Afghan troops engaged in the center of Marja while a UH-60 Black Hawk arrives for a medical evacuation on February 13.

On February 12, hours before midnight the Afghan President Hamid Karzai had given his personal approval for the operation, that had been delayed for 24 hours as Afghan officials entered last minute negotiations with insurgents.[52] The landing of waves of helicopters across central Helmand marked the start of the major offensive.[53] On February 13, two hours before dawn at 4 am local time the first of 90 Chinook and Cobra helicopters disgorged a force of British, Afghan and French troops. The advance into Marja was slowed during the morning through poppy fields lined with home-made explosives and other land mines.[54][55][56][57][58][59][60]

The first kills were reported to be made by unmanned Predator aircraft and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, targeting insurgents seen laying roadside bombs and setting up anti-aircraft guns. At 2 am local time the troops from the U.S. Marine Corps seized a series of canal crossings south of Nad-e-Ali.

Within half an hour, the U.S., British and Afghan special forces seized and secured dozens of helicopter landing sites. Most notably U.S. Army Special Forces ODA 1231 along with Afghan Commandos from 3rd Commando Kandak took control of the southern tip of the city, being the first boots on the ground. At 2:25 am Chinooks approached, flown by pilots with night vision equipment and guided by infra-red flares, dropped from U.S. Marine KC-130's. At about 4 am, RAF Chinooks full of soldiers from the 1st battalion the Royal Welsh left Camp Bastion, the main British base in Helmand, for the Pegasus landing zone in the Taliban stronghold of Showal in the Chah-e-Anjir area. While the British force began to secure their area, a 1,000-strong combined force of members of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Afghan National Army landed in Marja. During the following 90 minutes, more Marines arrived in waves of CH-53 Super Stallion transport helicopters. By daybreak, hundreds more soldiers began to enter the area by land, using mobile bridges and Assault Breacher Vehicles.[61]

Major General Nick Carter, commander of NATO Regional Command South in southern Afghanistan, said Afghan and coalition troops made a "successful insertion" without incurring any casualties. While the U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers stormed the town of Marja, British, American and Canadian forces struck in the Nad Ali district. General Sher Mohammad Zazai, commander of the Afghan troops in the south, said Afghan and NATO forces had established positions in 11 of 13 targeted areas in and around Marja and were slowly pushing forward.[62][63]

When invading Marja, the invading troops confiscated caches of weapons and ammunition. The greatest obstacle was the extensive network of mines and booby traps. The assault troops were reported to run into "a huge number" of improvised explosive devices when crossing a canal into the town's northern entrance. Marines and Army used portable aluminium bridges to span the irrigation channels. Mobile bridges enabled the safe crossing of the main canal into Marja, since the existing bridge was expected to be rigged with explosives. Marine engineers moved forward in special mine-clearing Assault Breacher Vehicles. These 72-ton, 40-foot (12-meter)-long vehicles, fitted with a 15-foot (4.5-meter)-wide plow supported by metallic skis that glide on the dirt, and nearly 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms) of explosives, ploughed a path through fields and dug a safety lane through the numerous minefields laid by the Taliban. To clear minefields and ignite roadside bombs, the Marines also launched rockets which deploy cables of plastic explosives, called M58 MICLIC.[64][65]

On the first day of the operation, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, a spokesman of the Taliban, said that insurgents were still resisting in Marja in hit-and-run tactics against ISAF forces. Mullah Mohammed had told ABC News that the Taliban were retreating to reduce civilian casualties.[66] By nightfall, it was claimed by ISAF sources that Marines "appeared to be in control" of the centre of Marja.[65]

British forces moving into the Nadi Ali and western Babaji regions encountered small 'stay-behind' pockets of resistance, although most Taliban fighters had already retreated to other areas in Helmand. Number One Company of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards advanced several kilometers into the region on foot from Patrol Base 4 in Babaji. The guardsmen manpacked FGM-148 Javelin missiles which were used decisively to defeat the Taliban resistance left in the area.

Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said it was "the most successful operation we have ever carried out", but warned that the complete military operation could take a month.[67] However, General McChrystal later called the offensive in Marja a "bleeding ulcer" after 90 days into the offensive.[15]

February 14, 2010

Marines and Afghan National Army soldiers take cover in Marja on February 13

On the morning of February 14, 2010, a report of the Australian newspaper Herald Sun under the headline "Opium city captured" claimed the seizure of Marjah, "source of most of the world's opium", by the Afghan and ISAF forces.[68] However, Reuters reported that a small flag-raising ceremony at one of the Afghan and ISAF compounds on the morning of February 14 drew gunfire, suggesting that the insurgents remained defiant.[69] After American, Afghan and British troops seized crucial positions, having first overwhelmed most immediate resistance, they encountered "intense but sporadic" fighting as they began house-to-house searches. The pattern suggested that the hardest fighting was still to come. According to American commanders the troops had achieved every first-day objective, including advancing into the city itself and seizing strategic points like intersections, government buildings and one of the city's bazaars in the center. The following searching door to door for weapons and insurgents is expected to last at least five days, with possibly hundreds of bombs and booby-traps in houses and on roads and foothpaths as the biggest concern.[70]

On this second day of the operation British troops pushed through Showal, the town that for the last two years was under the control of insurgents who used it as a staging post to build bombs and to train their fighters to plant them. In factory raids explosives for numerous improvised explosive devices were seized.[71] Not only bomb-making equipment, but also drugs and heroin-processing chemicals were found in surrounding field belonging to Opium farmers. Among the drugs seized were 17 tons of black tar opium, 74 tons of opium poppy seeds, 400 pounds of hashish and 443 pounds of heroin.[72]

Twelve civilians, 10 of whom were from the same family, were killed when civilian houses in Marja were struck by two rockets fired by a NATO High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). All use of the rocket system was stopped by NATO commanders, the American general McChrystal telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to apologize for what he called the "unfortunate incident" and the latter called for an investigation.[73][74][75][76][77][78] Major General Nick Carter stated however that the rockets were on target and the house was used by the Taliban for staging attacks.[79]

February 15, 2010

soldiers beside a mud wall

U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment return fire on enemy forces in Marja.

On the morning of the third day of the operation, the American general Stanley McChrystal visited the former "insurgent capital" of Showal, where after two years the white flag of the Taliban was replaced with the red, green and black national flag. While the British 50-square-mile (130 km2) sector of northern Nad-e-Ali had fallen easily, the American troops were still pushing through Marja a few miles away where the insurgents are putting up a "final stand".[80]

According to American and Afghan commanders, the number of insurgents in the area had dropped by about half. About a quarter of the 400 Taliban fighters estimated to be in Marja at the beginning of the operation had been killed. Another quarter appeared to have reatreated to other areas or have fled the area, including some of the commanders. In Marja itself fighting continued in two areas, at the northern end of the district and at the center.[81][82]

Cpl Ducote and Lcpl Cooper 3rd Bn 6th Mar India Company

February 16, 2010

After the town of Showal was captured following the launch of Operation Moshtarak, a threat was perceived by the ISAF forces of suicide or other bombing attacks by insurgents, attempting to reassert their presence in defiance of the media focus on the town's recapture.[83]

February 18, 2010

On February 18, 2010, Afghan soldiers raised the Afghan national flag over the badly damaged bazaar in Marja which had been the target of ISAF and Afghan army attacks, after driving back Taliban snipers on their third attempt, witnessed by the top Afghan general in Helmand and the provincial governor. The same day, there were reports about a meeting of Afghan government officials with Taliban representatives in the Maldives that had taken place at the end of January.[84]

February 25, 2010

File:U.S. Marines in Marjeh Afghanistan Feb 22, 2010.jpg

A Marine with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment return fire on enemy forces in Marjah using an M72 LAW

After 12 days, on the morning of February 25, 2010, there was another flag rising ceremony. The Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald reported that an AFP photographer mentioned the rising of the Afghan flag on a building at the Marja bazaar by Mohammad Gulab Mangal, governor of Helmand province, watched by Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, the commander of the US Marines in southern Afghanistan. This ceremony was attended by a crowd of several hundred inhabitants of the 125,000 inhabitants of the town and were guarded by US Marine snipers on the roofs of buildings. Nicholson and Mangal, accompanied by Major General Nick Carter, the British commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, arrived in Marja early that day by helicopter from Camp Bastion.[85]

March 16, 2010

On March March 16, 2010, an assessment by the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) claimed that the conflict in Marja had left 35 civilians dead, 37 injured, and 55 houses destroyed – without specification which side killed how many civilians. Except for some "small pockets of resistance", Taliban fighters had been driven out of the town, but many inhabitants were struggling to return to some kind of normality. Before and during the military operation they were promised rapid aid, but some three weeks after the end of the offensive local people said that they had yet to receive any meaningful assistance.[86]

March 20, 2010

According to reports, sniper fire and bomb explosions in Marja three or four times daily were a sign that the insurgents had not given up despite losing control of the town. New bombs were planted every night, even though Marines said they could dismantle most of them. Lt. Col. Calvert Worth, commander of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, said that his troops found or hit more than 120 homemade bombs in their first 30 days in Marja.[87][88]

June, 2010

Four months after the start of the operation, a lack of security for local population cooperating with ISAF troops and the eruption of gun battles "almost daily" have been reported.[89] Four months after the offensive the former Taliban stronghold, that was intended to become a showpiece of what Western military might and ramped-up Afghan government services could accomplish, became something of a cautionary tale. Insurgents undermined a return to normal life, intimidating bakers who supplied American troops.[90][91] [92]

Coalition and Taliban casualties

As of February 18, Coalition forces have not released, or given any more statements about estimates of Taliban casualties during this operation. In the first five days of fighting an anonymous US intelligence source estimated at least 120 Taliban fighters were killed engaging Coalition and Afghan forces in Marja during the operation.

Marines from Bravo Company, 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion return fire on the Taliban during Operation Moshtarak.

By early December, 61 US, UK and Afghan soldiers were reported killed in the district as part of the operation. However, the Afghan national army almost never gave out their fatality figures so the number of Coalition dead could be higher.

The numbers of Coalition and Taliban wounded in action have not been released or publicly estimated thus far.

Poppy dilemma

  • Afghan Peace Jirga 2010

    U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment patrol the poppy fields in Marja.

After the ousting of the Taliban, the American and NATO commanders were confronted with the dilemma of on the one hand the need for "winning the hearts and minds" of the local population as well as on the other hand the necessity of the eradication of poppies and the destruction of the opium economy, that allegedly financed the Taliban insurgency.[93][94] Since opium is the main source of existence of 60 to 70 percent of the farmers in Marja, American Marines were ordered to preliminarily ignore the crops to avoid trampling their livelihood.[95]

Initial Assault Order of Battle

The following order of battle was taken from an ISAF press release:[96]

A combined force of 15,000 is involved in Operation Moshtarak. This combined force includes: Approximately five brigades of Afghan forces, including members of the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, Afghan Border Police and the Afghan National Civil Order Police.

  • ISAF Regional Command South elements, with forces drawn from the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia and Canada. These elements include:



Brigade Headquarters Group (5th Battalion, 10th Marines)

  • 1st Radio Battalion (USMC)
  • Det, 4th Civil Affairs Group (USMC)

7th Marine Regiment (USMC)

Combat Logistics Regiment 2 (USMC)


Marine Aircraft Group 40 (USMC)

82ND COMBAT AVIATION BRIGADE'' (Task Force Pegasus) (US Army)

  • Company B, 3rd Battalion, 82nd Aviation Regiment

101ST COMBAT' 'AVIATION BRIGADE (Task Force Destiny) (US Army)

11TH INFANTRY BRIGADE (Task Force Helmand) (UK)

  • 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards Regiment (UK)
  • 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards Regiment (UK)
  • 1st Battalion, Royal Welsh Regiment (UK)
  • Elements of 2nd Battalion, Yorks Regiment (Operational Mentor and Liaison Team) (UK)
  • Elements of 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (OMLT) (Canada)

3RD BRIGADE, 205TH CORPS (Afghan National Army)

  • Headquarters, 3d Brigade, 205th Corps (Afghan)
  • 1st Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps (Afghan)
  • 2nd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps (Afghan)
  • 3rd Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps (Afghan)

451st Air Expeditionary Wing'' (US)'


soldiers walk along field with carrying large weapons

U.S. Marines with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment patrol the fields inAftermath

  • 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron (CH-146(Canada)[95][97]


  • Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (UK)
  • Estonian Company-9 (Estonia)

Canadian and Afghan National Army soldiers patrol in Badula Qulp, Helmand province, February 17, 201

Follow On Units (April to December 2010)

In March 2010, when the major clearing operations were over, the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade turned over the Helmand Province to the much larger I Marine Expeditionary Force (FWD). By the summer, most of the initial assault units of 2nd MEB were replaced by the units of I MEF (FWD). The official end to Operation MOSHTARAK was December 2010, though units stayed in the city for the years after. I MARINE EXPEDITIONARY FORCE (FWD)

1st Marine Division (FWD) Regimental Combat Team 1 (USMC) (Replaced Regimental Combat Team 7 at Camp Dwyer)


Presidential Unit Citation

For the actions of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, primarily Operations MOSHTARAK AND KANJAR, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, a unit award equivalent to the personal Navy Cross. This is the first Marine-led unit to receive the citation since the I Marine Expeditionary Force was awarded it for its actions in the 2003 assault into Iraq.

Navy Presidential Unit Citation, awarded to the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade for it's operations in the Helmand Province in 2009-2010, to include Operation MOSHTARAK.

File:Presidential Unit Citation - Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan (MEB-A) 2009-2010.pdf

See also


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