What Kandahar residents say about the Afghanistan war: It's complicated
Even before Tuesday's suicide attack in Kandahar killed three US soldiers and five Afghan civilians, the view from Kandahar was that the Afghanistan war wasn’t going well.
Even before the overnight suicide attack in Kandahar that killed three US soldiers and five Afghan civilians, the view from patients and doctors at Mirwais hospital in Kandahar – the only trauma center for four of Afghanistan’s most violent provinces – was that the war isn’t going well.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Doctors last week said they’ve been flooded with Afghan casualties in recent months, and that surgeons have been forced to keep back-to-back 24-hour shifts, as the US-led surge designed to improve security and living conditions for Afghans continues to build.
In the past 24 hours, eight US troops have been killed in Afghanistan’s south, where the bulk of the US surge into Afghanistan has been deployed and where Marines, Afghan soldiers, and policemen have been fighting in the fields and irrigation ditches of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
'We're all in a lot more danger than we were'
But so far, the results in the eyes of Afghans have been scant, with many in the city and its surroundings saying they’ve been put in greater danger by the effort.
“The Taliban have been around us for years, but all they ever asked for was a little food or water when they were around,” Hekmatullah, a young farmer, says from his hospital bed. He received a leg wound when a joint US-Afghan patrol got into a firefight with the Taliban across the field he was tending in Zabul province. “We’re all in a lot more danger than we were.”
That’s a common sentiment across much of the south. Last week, a delegation of tribal elders trooped to the provincial council chaired by Ahmad Wali Karzai, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, to complain about a NATO-built police checkpoint in their neighborhood, which they said was putting their families in danger and disrupting their lives.
Mr. Karzai said he’d look into it with NATO, but explained that the checkpoint “was for the security of the whole city.”
Slow and steady progress?
US Marines and Afghan forces continue to erect checkpoints and outposts along the main highways leading to the provincial capital, which a US officer says are improving intelligence on key Taliban figures and allowing NATO and Afghan troops to take their targets more often than not alive.
“We’re slowly bringing the roads under control,” says the officer. “Pretty soon, they won’t be able to move where they want.”
While he and other officers paint a picture of “slow and steady progress,” the fact remains that large numbers of Taliban are already in the city, and urban combat to root them out is off the table for now, since it carries the likelihood of significant civilian casualties.
As Tuesday night’s attack on an Afghan police headquarters made clear, the Taliban is also well-blended with the farmers of the countryside and secreted within the major towns.
NATO said the police headquarters – in the middle of Kandahar city and not far from the bazaar where locals say assassinations by the Taliban have become almost a daily occurrence – was hit by a suicide car bomb and a group of Taliban with rifles, before foreign and Afghan forces drove off the assault. Elsewhere in the south, four US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb and a fifth soldier was killed by small arms fire.