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Mini-surge to test out US strategy in Afghanistan

Some 3,000 US troops recently deployed to insurgent-heavy provinces near Kabul.

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Like elsewhere, Wardak and Logar are home to a bewildering array for tribes, each carrying a complex history of rivalries and allegiances.

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A group of tribes here, which locals call the Maidani, has historically supported Hizb-i-Islami and contributes fighters to its ranks. Other tribes have allegiances with the Taliban and still others support the Afghan government.

Locals wary of more foreign troops

Washington's biggest challenge, however, may be winning the support of a local population that is wary of American troops. "I had a meeting with my constituents," says Roshanak Wardak, a member of parliament from Wardak Province. "They were completely, 100 percent against the arrival of foreign troops."

"People are worried that the injection of more troops will bring more civilian casualties," says Muhammad Hazrat Janan, a member of Wardak's provincial council.

"We don't want more fighting here," says Najibullah, a taxi driver. "When the Americans come, the Taliban attacks us." The others in his car nod in agreement.

But already 3,000 troops have landed in these provinces. They belong to the Army's 10th Mountain Division, which was slated for Iraq until being diverted to Afghanistan last September.

Colonel Haight says he recognizes the problem of local hostility. "You won't be able to build trust overnight. It will take some time."

"We need to push into the villages," he adds. "We have to get out there and show the benefits of our presence."

These benefits will include fostering development and better governance, he says, to go along with traditional combat operations.

"They got the groceries here," he explains, referring to farm produce. "They can get it out of the ground, they just can't get it to the market."

The two provinces have few usable roads and related facilities.

US forces here plan to facilitate infrastructure development, which officials contend will lead to more economic opportunities for the locals.

"He who creates jobs is going to win this war," says Haight. "The Taliban can't create jobs, but if we can, it can make a real difference."

In addition, the Americans plan to help build the capacity of Afghan government.

They are meeting regularly with Wardak's governor Muhammad Halim Fedayee. "I have been focused on getting qualified staff and creating a transparent and accountable government," Mr. Fedayee says. "If the Americans don't continue this approach, we are all in trouble."

Debate over arming Afghans

US officials are also backing the creation of an armed paramilitary force in Wardak known as the Afghan Protection Force. Village elders will nominate groups of young men, who will be vetted, trained, armed, and given a uniform by the Ministry of Interior. These groups will be tasked with providing neighborhood security – there are only 460 police officers for the more than half a million people there – and acting as a "holding force" in areas where insurgents are cleared out, according to Afghan officials.

While the plan is popular with locals who see the possibility of jobs in a province where they are scarce, many analysts say there are dangers in providing weapons to tribesmen in a region awash with arms and in a country with a history of civil war.

Government officials in Wardak, however, support the initiative. "The US should be helping support all local Afghan security forces, instead of sending in troops," says provincial council member Mr. Janan.

The provincial council is an elected body that advises the provincial governor. As the Taliban increased its hold over Wardak, council members started to leave the province. Now, none of the nine members even live in Wardak – they've all relocated to Kabul.

"My family can't stay there anymore," Janan says. "We just sit and wait for the day that we can return."