Afghanistan — Progress in Kandahar Will be Gradual, General Says

COMBAT OUTPOST SERANJAY, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010 — Progress in Afghanistan must be grad­ual and slow to ensure it becomes per­ma­nent, Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez said here today.

Rodriguez, the chief of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Joint Com­mand, vis­it­ed this out­post south­west of Kan­da­har with Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates. The sec­re­tary is in Afghanistan to learn the ground truth about oper­a­tions here and to speak with the men and women on the sharp end of the spear.

Kan­da­har and the Cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er Val­ley are key areas to the coali­tion and to the Afghan gov­ern­ment. This is key ter­ri­to­ry for the Tal­iban and their ter­ror­ist allies, and they are fight­ing hard to recov­er lost ground, Rodriguez said.

Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are step­ping up and tak­ing the lead in many areas, but the local police espe­cial­ly remain a work in progress, the gen­er­al said. The main bat­tle today is for Kan­da­har and the roads into and out of the city.

Kan­da­har City is divid­ed up into 17 precincts with each built around a police secu­ri­ty sta­tion. Amer­i­can mil­i­tary police are part­nered with these units 24–7. The police secu­ri­ty sta­tions are becom­ing a cen­ter­piece for nor­mal life. Mar­kets and schools have sprung up under the pro­tec­tion of these facil­i­ties.

The Afghan forces – in coor­di­na­tion with U.S. and inter­na­tion­al part­ners – have set up area check­points to dis­cour­age smug­gling and to pro­tect the Afghan peo­ple. “All this is to pro­vide bet­ter secu­ri­ty for the peo­ple, so they can par­tic­i­pate in the rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cils that are so impor­tant to Afghan soci­ety,” Rodriguez said.

Kan­da­har and its envi­rons were the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban, and the home of Mul­lah Omar, the spir­i­tu­al leader of the Tal­iban, before coali­tion forces sent him pack­ing in Novem­ber 2001.

The peo­ple of Kan­da­har do not like the Taliban’s dra­con­ian laws, and most would choose anoth­er group to gov­ern.

The gen­er­al atti­tude, or “buzz of the peo­ple is very, very pos­i­tive,” Rodriguez said. Recent oper­a­tions inside Kan­da­har and in the approach­es to the city were led and most­ly con­duct­ed by Afghan police and sol­diers.

The Afghan secu­ri­ty forces “real­ly treat­ed the peo­ple like Afghans need to treat Afghans,” the gen­er­al said.

There is anec­do­tal evi­dence, he said, that some for­mer­ly bel­liger­ent Afghans are lay­ing down their arms.

“They do not want to face Afghan, Amer­i­can and coali­tion groups” in any way, Rodriguez said.

Out­side the city, coali­tion and Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are work­ing togeth­er to clear the area of insur­gents to allow Kan­da­har – the eco­nom­ic engine of south­ern Afghanistan – to con­nect with the Cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er Val­ley and the rest of the coun­try.

The fight­ing has been tough in the Argend­haub Riv­er Val­ley north of Kan­da­har City, and now U.S. sol­diers with the 101st Air­borne Division’s 2nd Brigade Com­bat Team are tak­ing on the Tal­iban in Zari and Pan­jsway. The brigade is part­nered with a new Afghan brigade, and togeth­er they are mak­ing progress.

These areas have some chal­leng­ing ter­rain – irri­ga­tions ditch­es, moun­tains, ditch­es and arroyos, and heavy foliage. The Tal­iban has pre­pared defens­es in some of these areas.

“It will be tough … but it is not impos­si­ble to accom­plish because we have all these great troops,” Rodriguez said. “They know what they are doing and can make a dif­fer­ence in any secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion.

“Every time we go out we learn more and more,” Rodriguez con­tin­ued. “And we adapt our tac­tics and we have to learn from the peo­ple, the ter­rain and our Afghan part­ners. We have to be the ones who adjust faster than the ene­my.”

The gen­er­al also dis­cussed oper­a­tions in Mala­jat – a rough area in the south­west­ern part of the city. Afghan forces – with help from Fort Carson’s 1st Brigade Com­bat Team of the 4th Infantry Divi­sion, drove the Tal­iban from the area. But this area is impor­tant to the Tal­iban, Rodriguez said, and the insur­gents soon struck back. The U.S. unit lost eight sol­diers since com­menc­ing oper­a­tions Aug. 16, he said, not­ing five sol­diers were killed in an impro­vised explo­sive device attack.

Afghan secu­ri­ty forces had planned on han­dling the Mala­jat oper­a­tion them­selves, Rodriguez said, but they’d attacked and were ini­tial­ly turned back. The Afghans re-grouped, he said, and then cleared the area of the Tal­iban.

The Mala­jat oper­a­tion was spear­head­ed by Afghan police lead­er­ship in Kan­da­har, Rodriguez said. The Afghan Nation­al Civ­il Order Police, he added, played a large role. That police unit, Rodriguez said, con­sists of high-cal­iber Afghan non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers and offi­cers.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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