WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2010 — With Afghan forces leading operations in and around the spiritual home of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, a new Afghan-led model is emerging for the region, a senior U.S. officer said today.
“Earlier this year, … the insurgents had nearly complete freedom of movement in this area,” said Army Col. Jeffrey Martindale, commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st brigade Combat Team. “Over the last four months, we were able to force the insurgents out of many of the areas which they traditionally held as sanctuaries. This has resulted in some pretty dramatic changes here.”
Martindale spoke about current operations to Pentagon reporters via video uplink from his headquarters at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar City.
The 3,500 soldiers of Martindale’s brigade deployed to Afghanistan in July and assumed operational responsibility for Kandahar’s capital city and the province’s Arghandab district under Regional Command South in August. His force includes two additional battalion task forces serving in Regional Command West.
“I have seven U.S. battalions under my control as we partner with the Kandahar City and Arghandab district police, two battalions of Afghan National Army soldiers and a brigade of Afghan National Civil Order Police,” Martindale said.
Kandahar City, home to an estimated 800,000 people, is both the ancestral home of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the birthplace of and former center of operations for the Taliban, Martindale said.
“For this reason, the gains we have made here are important to the overall situation of the country,” he said. “Kandahar City … serves as a focal point for the entire southern part of the country, both culturally and economically.”
Shortly after Martindale’s arrival, Karzai granted provincial Gov. Tooryalai Wesa authority as commander in chief of all Afghan forces in the province, Martindale said.
“The governor used his new-found powers … and ran with it,” ordering an operation in Malajat, a notorious area in the city’s southwestern sector, Martindale said.
“It was known throughout the city as being where the Taliban held court, conducted torture and executions, and projected … attacks into the city,” he added. Afghan forces took the lead in that operation, while Martindale’s troops provided additional combat power, close-air support, mine clearance and medical capabilities.
That operation led to the capture or killing of several dozen Taliban insurgents, Martindale said, and U.S. and Afghan forces have now established a “combined, permanent” presence in the area.
The governor’s success in Malajat created a new Afghan-led model for operations in the region, Martindale said. Under that model, Wesa gathers the leaders of Afghan forces with some of the brigade commanders from the coalition, and directs them to conduct an operation, the colonel said.
“He gives them a certain amount of time to plan. The director of security from the area is responsible for briefing intelligence to the governor a few days later, and then we go into a significant planning portion before the operation,” Martindale explained. “The Afghans select a leader from [their own forces] to run the operation. Based on which element is in the lead, his planner leads the planning effort. We then go and brief the governor on the operation, and then soon thereafter we execute.”
Martindale’s forces, some of whom are embedded in each Afghan army and police unit, serve as a supporting and coordinating element in these operations, he said.
“I can tie all of this together and synchronize it through the network I have embedded with all of these forces, and I can use that to bring in fires and air support and reconnaissance assets and other things that support them on the ground,” he said.
Such operations have built Afghans’ confidence in their nation’s forces, Martindale said.
“The governor knows he can direct his forces to execute an operation. He knows they can come through,” he said. “The Afghans see that it’s mainly an Afghan-led operation, in particular on the ground, and the locals see this, and I think it gives them hope that when we do depart the country, there’s a force that’s here that can execute without our help.”
Kandahar City and Arghandab district now have the ideal mix of maturing Afghan army and police units supported by coalition capabilities, Martindale said.
“When I first arrived here my rallying cry was that I needed more forces,” he added. “It took some time, and it took some fighting together, for us to now build a team within the city and Argandab that I think is unbeatable by the Taliban – and I would not have said that even a few months ago. We have been resourced for success, and I think we’re defeating the Taliban here now.”
Afghan and coalition forces also have cleared Taliban enclaves from the largely agricultural Arghandab valley, Martindale said, clearing mine fields, destroying bomb-making facilities and interrupting weapon transport routes.
“[We] are in the process of building roads and infrastructure into the area … to prevent it from becoming sanctuary ever again,” he said.
Martindale said the area has seen significant infrastructure development on his watch, with two new power-generation plants nearing completion that will triple Kandahar City’s available electricity. Seven extensive road projects and 92 other development efforts also are under way.
“We are working closely with our interagency partners and Afghan governmental leaders to bring basic services to their citizens and connect them with the people of these communities,” he said.
Martindale said while these efforts have been costly and effort-intensive, they can serve as a model for other areas in Afghanistan.
“Once we can set conditions here to thin out coalition forces, we can do this same thing in other portions of the country,” he said. “But I think in any war, in any fight, you’re going to have to decide where you want to assume risk, and where you want to weight your main effort. And right now, we have benefitted significantly from being the main effort.” Martindale said he’s confident the 4th Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, the sister brigade set to replace his, also will see success.
“If the current governor stays in position, which I expect, and the current [Afghan security forces] leadership stays in position, which I have no reason to believe they won’t, then I think things will continue to progress upward,” he said.
A key factor to ongoing progress in Kandahar after this winter, he said, is what the enemy will do in the spring.
“I would prefer that they try to come back here in the spring and try to establish the stronghold they used to have here,” he said, “so we can use the team I have built now to really defeat them. I think that would … set conditions for the next year, [by which time] I think the Taliban would have pretty much lost this area.”
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