By Army Pfc. Andrya Hill
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 22, 2009 - Afghan National Army and U.S. servicemembers conducted meetings with local elders and villagers in the Zormat district of Afghanistan's eastern province of Paktia to discuss the recent establishment of Combat Outpost Kalagu and to address their concerns. The meetings, called "shuras," were hosted April 13 to 15 by the commanders of the Afghan army's 1st Company, 1st Kandak, 203rd Corps, along with paratroopers from the 25th Infantry Division's 1st Squadron, 40th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
"What we are trying to do is to get to the villages and population centers immediately surrounding this [combat outpost] to let them know what we are doing here, let them know that security is coming, find out what their issues are, and listen to what they've got to say," said Army Lt. Col. Robert Campbell, the squadron's commander.
The Afghan soldiers created the outpost to establish themselves in the area, which carried the potential to alarm local residents.
"We came in with an air-assault asset, helicopters and trucks, and we want to get to the population quickly so we can connect with the people right away," Campbell said.
A positive and developing relationship with village elders in the area is essential to the Afghan army's success there, officials said. Despite some original hesitation, the commanders said, they believe their efforts will assist in bringing peace.
The potential alarm stemmed from the enemy being in and out of the area. Any time local elders and international forces have conducted talks in the area, there has been a threat of retaliation from the Taliban, Campbell explained.
Elders at the shuras expressed concern regarding that issue, among others, and they spent several hours relaying those concerns to the commanders, who listened carefully and offered remedies for each issue.
"I think we gained their trust very quickly, and I give that credit to the 1st Company, 1st Kandak, commander, because he knows how to connect with the people. They realized that we weren't there to hurt them or search them, we were there just to communicate with them and show them that we care, and we want to make a better life for them," Campbell said.
Lt. Col. Attauallah, commander of the 1st Company, 1st Kandak, assured the elders he would maintain an open line of communication with them and would respect their culture, traditions and desires for their community. He promised not only an unending fight to maintain security, but also a determination to build up Kalagu through various projects.
"We are working with the forces to start projects of schools, clinics, paving roads and wells," he said to the elders. "We are here to bring peace and stability, to drive out the enemy, and are thinking of good projects and a peaceful area of Afghanistan."
(Army Pfc. Andrya Hill serves with the 25th Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team.)