To expand their influence beyond district centers and into the surrounding countryside, the US will need a massive troop increase, soldiers here say. But short of that, they say they must rely on their Afghan allies – the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP).
Troops speak glowingly about the ANA, which they say is developing into a competent, professional force. But they have deep reservations about the ANP.
"We can't trust them," says Pfc. Jeremy Ahrendt. "Once, they radioed to us that they are being ambushed, but when we arrived to their outpost, we didn't see any signs of fighting."
In a few instances the Afghan police have claimed that they are under attack in the middle of the night, either to draw the Americans into a Taliban ambush or simply so that they can sleep and have the Americans take up guard for them, say US soldiers.
Unlike the ANA, the ANP here tend to be drawn mostly from the southern regions, so the likelihood of Taliban sympathizers in the force is higher. In many cases, according to members of the Wardak Provincial Council, the ANP works out arrangements with the insurgents so that they won't be attacked, and in return they allow the militants to operate unmolested.
There is also concern that they sell weapons to the insurgents. After killing Mohebullah, a Taliban commander in Wardak Province, US troops found sophisticated, American-made binoculars with him. The problem may be even more serious further south, where the new troops are headed.
According to residents in the southern province of Helmand, for example, the Taliban are able to buy ANP-issued weapons in bazaars.