By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
COMBAT OUTPOST SERANJAY, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010 – Progress in Afghanistan must be gradual and slow to ensure it becomes permanent, Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez said here today.
Rodriguez, the chief of NATO’s International Joint Command, visited this outpost southwest of Kandahar with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The secretary is in Afghanistan to learn the ground truth about operations here and to speak with the men and women on the sharp end of the spear.
Kandahar and the Central Helmand River Valley are key areas to the coalition and to the Afghan government. This is key territory for the Taliban and their terrorist allies, and they are fighting hard to recover lost ground, Rodriguez said.
Afghan security forces are stepping up and taking the lead in many areas, but the local police especially remain a work in progress, the general said. The main battle today is for Kandahar and the roads into and out of the city.
Kandahar City is divided up into 17 precincts with each built around a police security station. American military police are partnered with these units 24/7. The police security stations are becoming a centerpiece for normal life. Markets and schools have sprung up under the protection of these facilities.
The Afghan forces – in coordination with U.S. and international partners – have set up area checkpoints to discourage smuggling and to protect the Afghan people. “All this is to provide better security for the people, so they can participate in the representative councils that are so important to Afghan society,” Rodriguez said.
Kandahar and its environs were the spiritual home of the Taliban, and the home of Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, before coalition forces sent him packing in November 2001.
The people of Kandahar do not like the Taliban’s draconian laws, and most would choose another group to govern.
The general attitude, or “buzz of the people is very, very positive,” Rodriguez said. Recent operations inside Kandahar and in the approaches to the city were led and mostly conducted by Afghan police and soldiers.
The Afghan security forces “really treated the people like Afghans need to treat Afghans,” the general said.
There is anecdotal evidence, he said, that some formerly belligerent Afghans are laying down their arms.
“They do not want to face Afghan, American and coalition groups” in any way, Rodriguez said.
Outside the city, coalition and Afghan security forces are working together to clear the area of insurgents to allow Kandahar – the economic engine of southern Afghanistan – to connect with the Central Helmand River Valley and the rest of the country.
The fighting has been tough in the Argendhaub River Valley north of Kandahar City, and now U.S. soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team are taking on the Taliban in Zari and Panjsway. The brigade is partnered with a new Afghan brigade, and together they are making progress.
These areas have some challenging terrain – irrigations ditches, mountains, ditches and arroyos, and heavy foliage. The Taliban has prepared defenses in some of these areas.
“It will be tough … but it is not impossible to accomplish because we have all these great troops,” Rodriguez said. “They know what they are doing and can make a difference in any security situation.
“Every time we go out we learn more and more,” Rodriguez continued. “And we adapt our tactics and we have to learn from the people, the terrain and our Afghan partners. We have to be the ones who adjust faster than the enemy.”
The general also discussed operations in Malajat – a rough area in the southwestern part of the city. Afghan forces – with help from Fort Carson’s 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, drove the Taliban from the area. But this area is important to the Taliban, Rodriguez said, and the insurgents soon struck back. The U.S. unit lost eight soldiers since commencing operations Aug. 16, he said, noting five soldiers were killed in an improvised explosive device attack.
Afghan security forces had planned on handling the Malajat operation themselves, Rodriguez said, but they’d attacked and were initially turned back. The Afghans re-grouped, he said, and then cleared the area of the Taliban.
The Malajat operation was spearheaded by Afghan police leadership in Kandahar, Rodriguez said. The Afghan National Civil Order Police, he added, played a large role. That police unit, Rodriguez said, consists of high-caliber Afghan noncommissioned officers and officers.