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US soldiers feel new sense of urgency in Afghanistan war

The prevailing attitude among US soldiers is that while their remaining time on the ground may be limited, they have plenty of time to prepare Afghan forces to adequately replace them.

By Correspondent / October 5, 2011

Staff Sgt. Joshua White (c.), Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell (l.), and Brigade Sgt. Maj. Mike Boom (r.) observe a joint patrol of US Army and Afghan National Army soldiers and Afghan police in Paktika province, Afghanistan, on Monday.

Matt Ford/AP

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Paktika Province, Afghanistan

If there’s one place in Afghanistan where America’s counterinsurgency doctrine appears to be working, it’s in a remote corner of Paktika province about 10 miles from the border with Pakistan.

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When Gen. David Petraeus took control of US forces in Iraq in 2007 he implemented the doctrine, which relied on separating the insurgency from the civilian population and building infrastructure and local government to prevent militants' return. It was soon adopted by US forces in Afghanistan as well, and some glimmers of success are beginning to emerge.

However, with the 10-year anniversary of the war on Oct. 7 and the troop drawdown already begun, the question may not be whether the US can succeed, but if they have enough time to succeed.

During the past two years, US forces have managed to secure Paktika’s Zerok district and begin building up the local government. Now they’re just beginning to expand efforts into the neighboring Naka District. Despite nearly daily attacks on US troops in Naka until mid-September, among those tasked with securing it, there’s much optimism.

“For the first couple months I was a little doubtful. When we first got here we had trouble getting Afghan forces out [on patrol]. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get it to work. But in the last couple weeks it’s gotten a lot better,” says US Army Lt. Sidney Talley. “I think it’s feasible to get a solid stepping-stone to what a centralized government should look like here.”

Despite the progress in Zerok and Naka, the counterinsurgency strategy the US military is relying on in Afghanistan takes an average of 15 years to work properly, say experts.

Optimism

Among the soldiers, there is some frustration with challenges, but most are confident that they can accomplish their objectives despite the constraints.

“We have a very short timeline and I wish we would have come with that sense of urgency we have now,” says Lt. Col. Rafael Paredes, deputy commander of the 172nd Infantry brigade in Paktika. “We’re running out of time, so we’re really pushing the Afghans to take the lead.”

International forces have invested considerable time and resources into developing Afghan security over the past several years. Afghan forces are now about 300,000-strong. US soldiers throughout Afghanistan say there’s also been substantial qualitative improvements.

“They continue to make progress everyday on their own during independent patrols. They’re really taking the lead without pressure from us,” says Capt. Kevin Koser, executive officer for Bravo Company 2-28 Infantry Battalion. “It’s only going to be as strong as the people who remain here.”

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