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Coalition begins winter offensive in Afghanistan

By Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen

FOB SALERNO, Afghanistan (Army News Service, Dec. 20, 2004) - Taliban and al Qaeda holdouts operating in Regional Command East will not be getting a winter vacation this year.

In conjunction with Combined Joint Task Force-76's Operation Lightning Freedom, Combined Task Force Thunder recently launched "Operation Thunder Freedom."

The operation is designed to capitalize on the success of the Oct. 9 Afghan presidential election and continue that success through parliamentary elections scheduled for the spring, said Maj. Duke Davis, operations officer for CTF Thunder.

Part of that entails hunting Taliban and al Qaeda militants through the Afghan winter, and sapping their strength ahead of the elections. Traditionally, fighters in Afghanistan lay low during the harsh winter months and come back out strong in the spring.

"It's not all about killing the bad guys," Davis said. "It's perhaps more so about how we get this country fully back on its feet and capable of managing itself."

Davis said the winter hibernation has been a trend for quite a while, if not eons in this country.

"I would expect that next spring, when the snow melts, that we will see an attempt to increase activity," he said. "But it will be interesting to see how much better our police, how much better our Kandaks, how much more the people are in support of what we're trying to do, and how much they push away the enemy's ability to initiate actions."

Thunder Freedom will involve all the command's assets, including the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, Davis said.

Operation Lightning Freedom was initiated after the Dec. 7 inauguration of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, according to Maj. Mark McCann, a spokesman for Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan in Kabul. The operation is going on throughout the country, he said.

``It's designed basically to search out and destroy the remaining remnants of Taliban forces who traditionally we believe go to ground during the winter months,'' McCann told a news conference.

Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, commander of CJTF-76, told reporters last month that the operation would include a redeployment to tighten security on the border with Pakistan and raids by Special Forces to snatch rebel leaders.

Olson, the top operational commander on the ground in Afghanistan, said Soldiers deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom shouldn't discount the resilience of the enemy, even during the winter.

"I don't think we should underestimate what's left of al Qaeda," he said. "The al Qaeda itself is still a viable organization. In some instances, they may be more dangerous because of their need to launch some kind of high visibility success which may cause some to revert to desperate acts."

The operation is also aimed at persuading militants to take up an offer of amnesty from the coalition and the Afghan government.

Davis reiterated that Thunder Freedom is not just a "combat" operation, and it involves a wide array of assets, including reconstruction projects and security assistance programs.

"The election was successful. Thunder Freedom is an attempt to exploit the successes of the elections focused on the opportunities that present themselves to continue in assisting this new, democratically elected government in any capacity necessary," Davis said. "We believe that continuing that press throughout the winter will make the enemy that much less capable of an effective spring offensive."

(Editor's note: Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen serves with the Combined Task Force Thunder Public Affairs Office.)


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