Afghanistan — Teamwork, Reintegration Weaken Taliban in Northern Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2011 — Coop­er­a­tion among troops from many nations and the rein­te­gra­tion into Afghan soci­ety of a grow­ing num­ber of war-weary insur­gents are adding to suc­cess in north­ern Afghanistan, the com­man­der of Region­al Com­mand North said today.

Ger­man army Maj. Gen. Hans-Wern­er Fritz and his deputy com­man­der, U.S. Army Col. Sean Mul­hol­land, briefed reporters at the Pen­ta­gon dur­ing a video tele­con­fer­ence from their head­quar­ters in Mazar-e-Sharif.

“I think the influ­ence of the Tal­iban is dimin­ish­ing, def­i­nite­ly,” Fritz said.

“They are leav­ing the area. If they don’t leave, they are killed. They are hand­ing them­selves over to us … by the rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram. So they are sim­ply giv­ing up,” he added, not­ing that the “secu­ri­ty bub­ble” around Kun­duz and Bagh­lan provinces and fur­ther west is per­ma­nent­ly expand­ing.

The 11,000 troops of Region­al Com­mand North include Ger­mans, Nor­we­gians, Swedes, Hun­gar­i­ans and Turks. U.S. forces are based in the area as part of the Afghan army and police train­ing effort. The region­al com­mand is using spe­cial oper­a­tions forces in shap­ing oper­a­tions before con­ven­tion­al troops enter the area, Mul­hol­land said, “and we’ve had great suc­cess win­ning the hearts and minds of civil­ians once the con­ven­tion­al forces have gone in.”

“We’ve been able to hold large expans­es of ter­rain and also build COPs — com­bat out­posts — and [for­ward oper­at­ing bases] to secure and anchor those areas that have been gained through the win­ter time,” he added.

As an adjunct to that, Mul­hol­land said, the Afghan Peace and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Pro­gram has tak­en off in Region­al Com­mand North as peo­ple have decid­ed to side with the Afghan gov­ern­ment or sim­ply don’t want to fight any more.

The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gram is one of two the region­al com­mand offers, Fritz said. The oth­er is the Afghan Local Police pro­gram. “The rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gram allows them, after they’ve been for­giv­en [by their com­mu­ni­ties] and enrolled in the pro­gram, the oppor­tu­ni­ty for voca­tion­al train­ing,” Mul­hol­land said. “While they’re going to train­ing, they receive a stipend of $88 a month to keep food on the table.”

When appli­cants sign into the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion pro­gram, Mul­hol­land said, they are vet­ted by the local police and the provin­cial chief of police and are for­giv­en by the peo­ple from their vil­lage. The pro­gram allows them to learn one of sev­er­al voca­tions, such as teach­ing. It also allows them, if they meet legal require­ments, to join the Afghan Local Police. “The ALP is actu­al­ly a job,” Mul­hol­land said. “It’s a pro­gram they can stay enrolled in for two to five years.”

Both pro­grams, he added, “are good alter­na­tives to what they’re doing now.”

All appli­cants for both pro­grams must reg­is­ter, must agree to live by the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion and Afghan law, and must accept the Afghan government’s author­i­ty. The region­al com­mand mon­i­tors an area that has expe­ri­enced a growth in Tal­iban activ­i­ty along with an increase in com­bat troops. The U.S. Army’s 4th Com­bat Avi­a­tion Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, and the 10th Moun­tain Division’s 1st Brigade Com­bat Team from Fort Drum, N.Y., Fritz said, serve in the area along with two Ger­man bat­tle groups. An exam­ple of the close work­ing rela­tion­ships among the diverse troops occurred in Octo­ber, Fritz said, dur­ing a day of fierce fight­ing.

“A sui­cider attacked a Ger­man posi­tion — these were para­troop­ers from my divi­sion in Ger­many,” he said. The sui­cide attack­er killed one Ger­man sol­dier and wound­ed many more. The troops called for med­ical evac­u­a­tion, and two U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk heli­copters from Fort Camp­bell, Ky., answered the call.

“As we say in Ger­man, there was a lot of iron in the air,” Fritz said.

The heli­copters recov­ered the wound­ed and took off, he said, then the crews real­ized a dead Ger­man sol­dier remained on the ground.

“They came back under fire, they recov­ered the sol­dier and they said, ‘We are tak­ing home a fall­en hero,” Fritz said. “And I can promise you, the Ger­man para­troop­ers, the Ger­man ‘Fallschir­m­jager,’ will nev­er for­get that. This is the qual­i­ty of coop­er­a­tion we are talk­ing about.”

Fritz said his region­al com­mand has momen­tum against the Tal­iban and aims to keep it.

“If we can,” he added, “we will fight the win­ter through to make sure that all the fox­holes are closed when one or the oth­er of the Tal­iban might come back in, in spring.”

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

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