Anand Gopal

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Category Archive for: Military

The Paradox of Boots on the Ground

Anand Gopal | Jun 29th, 2010 | The New Republic

On a balmy summer’s day in the village of Hiratian in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, locals found the body of eight-year-old Dilawar hanging from a tree of a small fruit farm. Taliban fighters had accused the boy of spying for the American forces and had kidnapped him, strung him up and left his body to sway in the wind for hours for all to see.

The murder was horrifying, yet few villagers would come to the defense of anyone charged with spying for the hated foreign forces. But slowly, the details of the story emerged. The Taliban in the area were involved in a weeks-long campaign to collect donations — money, food or weapons — from the local population. They had demanded either a large sum of money or a weapon from Mullah Qudoos, the ill-fated boy’s father. Qudoos, poor and jobless, had neither. So the insurgents took his son as revenge and killed him as an example.

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New Counterinsurgency Strategy, Same Results

Wardak province, a rustic region of verdant dales and twisting streams that borders Kabul, is home to one of the untold stories of the Afghan war: over the last nine months, U.S. forces have quietly decapitated the Taliban’s leadership in the area. Through dozens of nighttime raids, U.S. Special Operations Forces have succeeded in killing or capturing a number of important Taliban commanders. Dozens of notorious insurgent leaders who have ruled Wardak for five or six years unmolested have suddenly been removed from the picture, marking one of the biggest setbacks the Taliban has faced on the ground in recent times.

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U.S. Plan to Arm Afghan Milita Founders on Tribal Rivalries

ACHIN, Afghanistan — The detritus of tribal war litters the road that leads into this quiet mountain hamlet in eastern Afghanistan. The charred bodies of vehicles and the skeletal remains of destroyed houses fill the desert that flanks the road. Most of the shops in the main bazaar are shuttered, and some residents have packed up and left.

Achin district, a home of the Shinwari tribe, is part of an ambitious countrywide U.S. push to fund tribal militias to stand against the Taliban and stabilize the violence-plagued region. A months-long feud between Shinwari clans has brought Achin to a standstill, however, threatening to undermine the effort and illustrating the difficulties in enlisting tribes to combat the insurgency.

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Marjah: Guns Quiet, the Battle for Power Now Begins

Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan–Weeks after a major United States-led offensive overturned Taliban rule in the southern Afghan town of Marjah, another force continues to hold sway over the population.

“We are ruled by fear now,” says Gul Muhammad, a shopkeeper from the dust-caked market town, speaking by phone. “We don’t know who will ultimately win here, or who will end up back in power.”

Stuck between the Taliban, an untested new governor, and predatory former leaders trying to reclaim power, many of Marjah’s residents say they are afraid to cast their support in any direction.

Yet establishing a suitable local government that wins over this hesitant population is one of the biggest and most important challenges the US faces. It could determine the success of the offensive, one of the largest in the nine-year Afghanistan war and a high-profile test of the US’s “clear, hold, and build” strategy.

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Many Afghans Say Surge is the Wrong Strategy

KABUL — Some powerful Afghan politicians and tribal leaders have expressed doubts that more U.S. troops can turn the tide of the war, as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil a new Afghanistan strategy Tuesday.

President Barack Obama has been briefing allies about his plans for Afghanistan. He’s expected to tell the public — and lawmakers — how many more troops he’ll send and that it’s not an open-ended commitment. Video courtesy of Fox News.

“We should focus on building the Afghan security forces, not sending more troops,” said Sebgatullah Sanjar, the chief policy adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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Afghanistan Civilians Hit, Straining U.S. Alliance

By Anand Gopal and Yochi Dreazen

KABUL — An American airstrike on militants in northern Afghanistan killed an unknown number of local villagers, dealing a fresh blow to the U.S. campaign and adding fresh political pressure on NATO members struggling to defend an increasingly unpopular war.

The strike on a pair of hijacked fuel trucks in Kunduz Province sparked an immediate investigation by U.S and Afghan officials. It underscored the American military’s continuing struggle to prevent civilian deaths, just days after guidelines were issued to troops reminding them of that responsibility.

Two Western military officials acknowledged in interviews that early indications suggested significant numbers of civilians had died in the attack, though the number hasn’t been determined. Afghan officials said that up to 90 people died in the attack, including a large number of villagers who had been trying to siphon away fuel from the stalled trucks.

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US Troops in Afghanistan Face Tough Battle: Making ‘Clear, Hold, Build’ Work

In Wardak province, the counterinsurgency model has been difficult to implement, though US forces have already seen some success in the first phase of the effort.

Part 2 of a two-part series.

As the US sends more troops to Afghanistan to try to reverse the growing violence, they are relying on the “clear, hold, build” model of counterinsurgency. The US hopes a surge of soldiers will help them clear areas of Taliban insurgents, maintain a lasting presence in those areas to keep militants from returning, and then bring development to attract popular support.

But soldiers in Wardak Province say that the model has been difficult to implement in here. In particular, they say they are caught in a vicious circle: To win over the locals, the troops must bring development, security, and economic prospects. To do this, they have to diminish the presence of the insurgency. But this, in turn, requires that the troops win support of the population.

US forces have already made some progress in the first phase of the strategy. The stretch of the Kabul-Kandahar highway that runs through Wardak, once a magnet for insurgents, has been free of Taliban checkpoints for months. The guerrilla presence along the route had gotten so bad that fuel convoys suffered almost daily attacks.

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In Afghanistan Surge, Soldiers Negotiate a Complex Web of Local Loyalties

As forces of the 10th Mountain Division poured into Wardak Province to combat the Taliban, they’ve also had to battle a cool reception.

Part one of a two-part series.

When the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division penetrated the insurgent-ridden Tangi Valley in the heart of Wardak Province, they braved rockets and roadside bombs. They succeeded in erecting a small outpost overlooking the lush, fertile dale in what is one of the most dangerous areas in the province.

Then they set about their main task: winning over the locals. They called a shura, or council, with the local elders here, to introduce themselves and take requests from the villagers.

“But to be honest, they didn’t want us here,” recalls 1st Lt. Christopher Wallgren, who commands the company of soldiers stationed in the Tangi, in eastern Afghanistan. “They all just asked us to leave. They didn’t want us to interfere with their lives.” Read the rest of this entry »

Many in Afghanistan oppose Obama’s troop buildup plans

Frustration and fear is sparking opposition to plans that would nearly double the size of US forces there.

Parliamentarian Shukria Barakzai says she has an innovative amendment to Washington’s planned injection of up to 30,000 new troops here.

“Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don’t send more troops – it will just bring more violence.”

Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration’s stabilization strategy.

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Mini-surge to Test Out US Strategy in Afghanistan

Some 3000 US troops recently deployed to insurgent-heavy provinces near Kabul

The 3,000 new American troops who arrived in recent weeks in Logar and Wardak provinces, both of which border Kabul, face a formidable challenge: establishing control in areas with little government presence and where insurgents operate freely.

In Band-e-chak, for example, a district capital in Wardak, gun-toting Taliban fighters regularly come into town on their motorbikes to do some shopping. They buy their produce and go home, driving past government offices unmolested.

These provinces could be a key testing ground for the Obama administration’s Afghan strategy, which may include a surge of thousands of US forces countrywide.

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