Afghanistan — Taliban Fighters Seek Reintegration, Officers Say

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2010 — Tal­iban fight­ers in north­ern Afghanistan are tired of fight­ing U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces and are look­ing to rein­te­grate back into soci­ety, the top mil­i­tary com­man­ders of the NATO Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force ele­ment in the region said today.

Maj. Gen. Hans-Wern­er Fritz of the Ger­man army, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s Region­al Com­mand North, and his deputy, U.S. Army Col. Sean Mul­hol­land, briefed Pen­ta­gon reporters today in a video news con­fer­ence from their head­quar­ters in Afghanistan.

NATO troops in the region appear to have the upper hand, Mul­hol­land said, under­scor­ing the progress and suc­cess of their Afghan part­ner­ships. These efforts, he added, are lim­it­ing the Taliban’s resources and have helped to dimin­ish their will to fight.

Tal­iban fight­ers in north­ern Afghanistan are work­ing with lim­it­ed sup­plies, indi­cat­ing to U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces there that extrem­ists pos­si­bly are con­ced­ing defeat. “What I see with the Tal­iban is that their resources are finite,” Mul­hol­land said. “Our forces, with our part­ners, are going after a lot of the sup­ply lines, the rat lines that come through [Region­al Com­mand] North.

In many areas, a tip­ping point appears near for Tal­iban fight­ers who are think­ing about giv­ing up, the colonel added.

One of Mulholland’s respon­si­bil­i­ties as deputy com­man­der involves talk­ing about rein­te­gra­tion issues with Tal­iban in the region. Many are weary of fight­ing, he said.

“I deal with a lot of issues where we talk to the Tal­iban that don’t want to fight any­more,” he said. “And I get a bet­ter sense from for­mer fight­ers that they’re tired of fight­ing.”

Some fight­ers remain opposed to giv­ing up, he said, but they are most­ly senior Tal­iban and extrem­ist lead­ers. “There are Tal­iban that will nev­er change their path,” he explained.

“Those are hard tar­gets that will nev­er change their opin­ion about fight­ing ISAF and try­ing to dis­rupt the Afghan gov­ern­ment. How­ev­er, [with] the mid-lev­el fight­ers, there are many oppor­tu­ni­ties to per­suade them. As we get it bet­ter with gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment and secu­ri­ty up here, … there are many oppor­tu­ni­ties to per­suade them to take anoth­er path.” The local pop­u­lace also is grow­ing weary of the vio­lence and fight­ing, Fritz said.

“Talk­ing to the peo­ple in the vil­lages, my impres­sion is these peo­ple are war-tired,” the gen­er­al said. “What they want to have is a lit­tle bit of peace. They want to have secu­ri­ty. And they want to see their chil­dren grow­ing up.”

The main goal of coali­tion and Afghan troops in the north is to bring down the lev­el of vio­lence, Fritz said. Vio­lence did spike dur­ing the sum­mer, as it did through­out much of the coun­try, but troops are hope­ful about the future, he added.

Fritz com­mands about 11,000 troops from 16 nations. All have faced harsh com­bat in recent months, but that is due to the increased foot­print of coali­tion troops, which are “pro­vok­ing” Tal­iban actions, he said.

“It’s been tough fight­ing,” he said. “The Tal­iban, they are seri­ous ene­mies. On the oth­er hand, I must say that our troops are doing very, very well. They are high­ly moti­vat­ed. They are a good part­ner. We are one team.”

Ger­many recent­ly increased the num­ber of its troops in Afghanistan to 5,000. Fritz said his nation will be involved in Afghanistan as long as they are need­ed.

There is no rea­son to expect Ger­man troops to with­draw forces, Fritz said. He added that he expects no change in NATO or U.S. troop lev­els or their mis­sion in the near future, he said.

“I can tell you that coop­er­a­tion between all of us is so close, it couldn’t be clos­er,” the gen­er­al said. “I can only say I am very, very opti­mistic that we are on the right track and things are get­ting bet­ter.”

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

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