Coalition Works to Extend Southern Afghanistan Gains

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2011 — Coali­tion forces and their civil­ian coun­ter­parts in south­ern Afghanistan are focused on hold­ing and extend­ing their gains in the area before a like­ly spring offen­sive by the Tal­iban, U.S. lead­ers there said today.

“There is con­cern that we could lose some gains in late spring,” Army Maj. Gen. James Ter­ry, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s Region­al Com­mand South, said dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news brief­ing from Afghanistan.

“We ful­ly expect [the Tal­iban] to come back and con­test those areas we’ve gained,” he added.

Coali­tion forces con­trol areas west of Kan­da­har, includ­ing the Zhari, west­ern Pan­jwai and Arghandab dis­tricts. There also is increased secu­ri­ty and free­dom of move­ment in Kan­da­har City, the cen­ter­piece of south­ern oper­a­tions, even while an insur­gent intim­i­da­tion cam­paign con­tin­ues against those who work with the Afghan gov­ern­ment and coali­tion forces, Ter­ry said.

The gen­er­al esti­mat­ed that 200 to 300 insur­gent fight­ers are in Region­al Com­mand South, but said “I know of no known al-Qai­da” oper­at­ing there.

While sus­tained secu­ri­ty is the top pri­or­i­ty, Afghans’ per­cep­tion that secu­ri­ty is real and last­ing is a close sec­ond, said Hen­ry Ensh­er, the State Department’s top civil­ian in the south. That per­cep­tion is best rein­forced by Afghans’ increased free­dom of move­ment and deal­ings with local gov­ern­ment, he added.

“Peo­ple are form­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive shuras for the first time in a long time, then they are rep­re­sent­ing their vil­lages in the first lev­el of gov­ern­ment,” Ensh­er said. “That’s what we’re striv­ing for now, even as we work at the provin­cial lev­el.

“It’s gone from zero to real­ly sig­nif­i­cant num­bers every day,” he said of the grow­ing munic­i­pal gov­ern­ments. “Now we have pret­ty sol­id gov­er­nors in the key dis­tricts.”

South­ern Afghans pre­fer that gov­er­nance hap­pen at the low­est lev­els, Ensh­er explained, adding that recent deci­sions to decen­tral­ize gov­ern­ment func­tions have been suc­cess­ful. “Most folks down here don’t real­ly look that high up,” he said. “Most just look to their neigh­bors to work togeth­er and with the dis­trict cen­ters” to deter­mine how mon­ey should be spent and issues resolved.

The Afghans tell coali­tion civil­ians they pre­fer to have them there build­ing roads and schools and improv­ing gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty, Ensh­er said. But they don’t want a repeat of the past, when they saw U.S. help go away after the Sovi­ets left the coun­try in ear­ly 1989.

“What we hear from the Afghans … is under no cir­cum­stances do they want to be aban­doned,” he said.

Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are becom­ing increas­ing­ly more com­pe­tent, allow­ing coali­tion forces to spend more time train­ing police, Ter­ry said.

One of the biggest chal­lenges, he said, is coun­ter­ing the insur­gent tac­tic of leav­ing explo­sive devices in pub­lic places, espe­cial­ly in the Zhari, west­ern Pan­jwai and Arghandab dis­tricts, which the coali­tion holds. Ene­my explo­sives have killed 97 Afghan civil­ians and wound­ed more than 150 since the U.S. Army’s 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion took over Region­al Com­mand South in Novem­ber, he said.

The coali­tion has increased pre­ci­sion airstrikes dur­ing that time and com­pen­sates peo­ple for all col­lat­er­al dam­age caused by the strikes, Ter­ry said. Since Novem­ber, it has paid $1.4 mil­lion to resolve 432 of 869 claims, he said.

“There are many pos­i­tive indi­ca­tors that this is a much bet­ter place than when I vis­it­ed here a year ago,” Ter­ry said, “and with patience and per­se­ver­ance, we will suc­ceed in the mis­sion.”

Ensh­er said his staff of 100 civil­ians works close­ly with the mil­i­tary to build gov­er­nance and improve the econ­o­my there. “It’s great progress for us civil­ians to go out­side the wire every sin­gle day with the mil­i­tary,” he said. “The Afghans need to see a clear alter­na­tive in their own gov­ern­ment to the Tal­iban.”

Coali­tion forces are focused on pre­vent­ing young Afghans from join­ing the insur­gency by giv­ing them bet­ter options through increased employ­ment, Ter­ry said. “How do we get young men to stay with the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan rather than the Tal­iban?” he said. “That is based on them hav­ing some liveli­hood.”

As Afghan forces become more com­pe­tent, coali­tion troops increas­ing­ly are work­ing with bor­der police to reduce insur­gents’ free­dom of move­ment into Pak­istan, Ter­ry said. He added that he soon will meet with his Pak­istani coun­ter­parts to “close the gap” along the bor­der.

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

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