By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 14, 2011 – Key areas of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in recent months have become free of insurgent control for the first time, a U.S. commander there said today.
“We’re holding in areas that about six months ago were really owned by the insurgents,” said Army Col. Arthur Kandarian, commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. “We’re holding and securing in terrain that the insurgents had never lost in.”
Kandarian and Col. Ghalum Murtaza Sarwari, commander of the Afghan army’s 3rd Brigade, 205th Corps, briefed Pentagon reporters today from Kandahar Airfield. Their troops are responsible for Kandahar’s Maywand, Zhari and Arghandab districts.
Kandarian said when his troops arrived in their Regional Command South area of responsibility 10 months ago, “insurgents could go where they wanted, intimidate who and when they wanted, and basically had unfettered control of Highway 1,” the road that links population centers in Afghanistan.
Since then, he said, the two partner brigades have fought shoulder to shoulder, cleared insurgents and destroyed weapons caches. He added his troops have built numerous combat outposts in former insurgent-held areas.
“With the increased security, it’s not uncommon for farmers to come up to our partnered patrols and thank them for removing the insurgents, so they can farm their land for the first time in many years,” he said.
Kandarian said that at age 48, if he had been born in Zhari, he’d have fought the Russians from age 15 to 25, and seen the Taliban, insurgents and “a lot of evil” from age 30 to 37. Now, he said, Zhari residents see partnered patrols, Afghan soldiers farther south than they’ve ever been, more bazaars and roads, and Afghan police and soldiers running Highway 1 checkpoints together.
Sarwari, speaking through a translator, said that as his brigade’s soldiers gain training and experience, they are learning to plan and execute operations independently.
Education among the Afghan people in the region, the Afghan commander said, is essential to extending government’s reach and solidifying security gains.
“Day by day, they will realize the system of the government of Afghanistan, and they will start to recognize the Afghan National Army,” he said.
The army, drawn from all of the nation’s provinces and tribes, gives the local people an example of Afghan unity, Sarwari said.
“They are ready to send their … young men to join the army and Afghan National Police, and … Afghan local police [for] their villages,” he said.
Sarwari said he is confident that while Afghanistan has a young army, it will improve its equipment and technology and gain armored vehicle, artillery and aviation capabilities with the help of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. forces.
“We will form a really good army, which will … conduct all the operations against the enemies of Afghanistan,” he said.