By David Mays
Special to American Forces Press Service
Nov. 2, 2007 - Afghan National Army soldiers assisted by coalition advisors have completely wiped out Taliban insurgents in a key southern province, a coalition commander said today. "My assessment of the threat in this province is that the insurgency has suffered a total defeat this summer due to the combined efforts of the ANA and coalition forces," Army Lt. Col. Karl Slaughenhaupt told online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call from the tiny Afghan town of Qalat.
Slaughenhaupt is senior advisor to 2nd Brigade, 205th Corps, of the Afghan National Army. He and his coalition team members support ANA troops as they patrol vast, sparsely-populated Zabul province, through which runs the vital but extremely dangerous highway that links Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, with its major southern city, Kandahar.
"Anti-government elements initially began their spring offensive by conducting fairly spectacular platoon-size, complex attacks and ambushes along Highway 1 targeting Afghan and coalition security forces," the colonel said. "However, these attacks resulted in significant enemy losses."
In response to massive firepower and calculated combat of Afghan soldiers, the colonel explained, Taliban fighters resorted to planting IEDs, ambushing citizens on secondary roads, and planning attacks on coalition forward operating bases.
Second Brigade just wrapped up a week-long campaign during which one such planned attack on Forward Operating Base Baylough, in Deh Chopan district, a remote area in northern Zabul province, was decidedly foiled. "This operation was a complete success on a variety of levels," Slaughenhaupt said.
Afghan soldiers tracked nearly 100 Taliban fighters as they approached the coalition base, the colonel explained. They then pinned down the enemy in rugged terrain, blocking any chance of escape. U.S. commanders verified insurgents' position using an unmanned aerial vehicle then called in airstrikes by two F-15 fighter jets, Slaughenhaupt said. Meanwhile, U.S. and Romania ground forces, Afghan National Police officers, coalition special operations teams, as well as provincial reconstruction, civil affairs and medical teams, rushed in to assist, he said.
"This is a great example of full-spectrum, counterinsurgent operations, combining kinetic and non-kinetic operations to simultaneously defeat the insurgents while reaching out to the Afghan people," he said. "This is a decisive victory in what has been traditionally considered an insurgent safe haven."
This is the second such counterinsurgency mission conducted in the province in recent months, the colonel explained. And once again, he said, Afghan soldiers proved they have what it takes to get the job done. "The ANA on more than one occasion demonstrated incredible tenacity by rallying back after being ambushed and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy by fire and maneuver," he said. "Bottom line: that when the ANA gets in a fight, they win."
Ultimately, securing the country will depend upon gaining the support and trust of its citizens, Slaughenhaupt said, adding that Afghan troops understand that. As an example, he cited a recent search operation in an Afghan village that turned up no sign of insurgents or weapons. It was clearly safe and secure, the colonel explained. Even so, the Afghan commander insisted his troops remain in the village for a few hours just to get to know and befriend those who live there.
"The Afghan soldiers, from the brigade commander down to privates, seem to inherently understand the need to interact in a positive way with the locals," he said. "He understands the importance of winning hearts and minds, and soldiers seem to get it and just do it naturally."
(David Mays works for the New Media branch of American Forces Press Service.)