In deadly Kandahar, skepticism over gains cited in Afghan war review
The Afghan war review points to military progress against the Taliban. But in one of the most deadly districts in Afghanistan, there are already signs that NATO gains may not hold into next spring.
(Page 2 of 2)
“The main problem is that our government wants to strengthen the places where it is now weak, but we do not have the necessary facilities,” says Haji Agha Lali Dastagiri, a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council.Skip to next paragraph
Guarded optimism over NATO gains
Still, Mr. Dastagiri says he is optimistic that local government officials can hold onto gains. The government has more control of the province than ever before. This winter, he says, security forces are pursuing the Taliban in their hideouts more aggressively than they did in the past so the government will continue to have more room to work.
Throughout the communities most affected by the fighting, there is general agreement that the offensive helped stabilize villages. Most locals, however, hesitate to be too impressed by these quick improvements.
“This is at least the third time that we’ve seen an offensive like this,” says Haji Faisal Mohammed, a tribal elder in the Panjwayi district, southwest of Arghandab. “The last two times, they left the places where they performed the operations and the Taliban came back and again people had problems.”
Mr. Mohammed says that in many regards this latest offensive was a success, killing a number of Taliban while minimizing civilian causalities.
But he worries that government corruption will undo many of these gains. The district governor of Panjwayi, Haji Baran, for example, is illiterate and stands accused of tribal favoritism. (Read a profile of Haji Baran here.)
Amid these conditions, a number of residents are unwilling to accept progress until they see long-term results.
“Every year they say 'we have killed these Taliban commanders,' but every year the violence increases. They are just destroying the homes and gardens and shops of people. They are not killing Taliban,” says Hekmatullah Popal, a shopkeeper who lives in Arghandab.
Security in north is key to long-term progress
While coalition and Afghan officials are working to ensure that this time is different, increasing the number of government officials in the area, the Taliban have responded by opening up new fronts in the north where the coalition presence is thin.
Of the 46 international combat battalions currently in Afghanistan, 42 are stationed either in the south or the east, leaving much room for the Taliban to operate in the north. In a recent interview with ABC News, top commander Gen. David Petraeus acknowledged this problem, saying it could prolong the fighting.
And 23 leading academics, aid workers, and journalists wrote in an open letter to President Obama this week that, “Military action may produce local and temporary improvements in security, but those improvements are neither going to last nor be replicable in the vast areas not garrisoned by Western forces without a political settlement."
Although the Taliban admit to suffering heavy casualties this past summer, fighters also say that they have not lost anyone who cannot be replaced, and that the prospect of martyrdom is a strong recruitment tool they will tap this winter.
“We had a very good fighting season this year,” says Ihsan, a low-level Taliban commander in Kandahar City. He adds that international forces have exaggerated their successes and downplayed their losses saying, “ISAF does not want to admit these kinds of things because it will make their countrymen sad.”