News / Asia

    US Defense Secretary Visits Former Taliban Village, Still Calls Progress 'Fragile'

    Secretary Gates poses for a photo with village elders in Tabin, March 8, 2011
    Secretary Gates poses for a photo with village elders in Tabin, March 8, 2011

    Multimedia

    Audio
    Al Pessin

    We started from a small base the U.S. Army calls Combat Outpost Kowall, and walked along the puddled road between the mud walls of village homes and farms. Curious children came out to see the foreigners. As we approached the square of Tabin village, the call to prayer rang out from a tinny speaker mounted in a tree.

    "In this village, we've got 10 vetted and confirmed members of the ALP, the Afghan Local Police, and we've got nine candidates that he's also going to meet here. Those are the candidates that are going through the vetting process," said Colonel David Flynn, one of the senior U.S. officers in the area.

    Flynn explained that the army brought security to the village by working closely with the Afghan military, fighting hard against Taliban elements, and establishing a relationship with tribal elders who agreed to allow their young men to join the new local police force.

    This is the Argandab Valley, a former insurgent stronghold in Kandahar Province, south of Kabul, part of what is called the Taliban Heartland.

    To be sure, there was heavy security for Secretary Gates' visit, with U.S. and Afghan soldiers posted along the way holding automatic rifles, patrols around the perimeter, and likely unseen airborne surveillance aircraft. Still, it was remarkable for the American secretary of defense, a man whose security is guarded nearly as closely as the president's, to be able to stroll into the village square, past armed Afghan troops, and chat with the elders about the Afghan Local Police program.

    ELDER: The situation was very bad four months ago, very dangerous here. Then I was elected the malik [mayor] here. And once I was elected, I asked the people to give me people for the ALP program.

    GATES: Are the elders satisfied with the way things are going?

    TRANSLATOR: Yeah, they said the elders are all happy.

    GATES: Good, good.

    The operational commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, came along. He helped plan and manage the Argandab campaign.

    "We lost a lot of soldiers there early on. The governor got killed. The police chief was maimed. Now there are police out in the street. And Friday afternoon they [the people] are out picnicking in the river valley. Today, you saw children out. In a place that has no security, the children are never out," Rodriguez said.

    Security for ordinary Afghans is a hallmark of the new strategy announced by U.S. President Barack Obama late in 2009 and implemented by his new commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus. The president sent 30,000 additional U.S. troops, and persuaded allied nations to send 10,000 more, to try to make the strategy work. And the coalition trained tens of thousands of additional Afghan troops and police as well.

    The idea is to establish and expand security zones, provide services to the people to gain their allegiance, and help the Afghan government and security forces gradually take over the job, so foreign troops can begin a withdrawal this July and end their combat role in 2014. Officials acknowledge that the situation varies from province to province, and often from town to town or even neighborhood to neighborhood. But in this area they claim success, at least for now.

    The village visit was the highlight of the defense secretary's two-day trip to Afghanistan, during which he also visited neighboring Helmand Province, where U.S. Marines have been engaged in heavy fighting for months against entrenched Taliban fighters in the Sangin River Valley.

    "Before you arrived here, the Taliban were dug in deep. And as the British before you can attest, this district was one of the most dangerous, not just in Afghanistan but maybe in the whole world," he said.

    That unit lost 20 Marines in its first few months in the valley, including the son of a three-star general, but officers say the area has been somewhat more stable during the last few months. Gates said the Marines achieved a major strategic breakthrough in Sangin, helping link security zones in Helmand and Kandahar, providing a more normal life for the people of the region, and creating a new, harsh environment for Taliban fighters.

    "Alongside your Afghan brothers, you've written a new chapter in the Marine Corps roll of honor, with your sweat and with your blood, against the toughest odds, in the most difficult terrain," he said.

    Still, Secretary Gates and senior officers warn that Taliban fighters will try to regain control of the area during the coming warmer months.

    Lieutenant Colonel Jason Morris commands the Marines Secretary Gates visited. He says for years under British command his outpost in Sanguin was an "island in a sea of insurgency." In the past several months, his U.S. Marines and others inserted in neighboring areas as part of the surge have changed the situation. But he says the fight is not over.

    "We are expecting the violence to pick up in the next couple of weeks. Indicators that we have are that the Taliban, once the vegetation fully comes back on the trees, are going to feel emboldened to carry out their attacks and try and reassert their authority. I would tell you that they're going to have a real hard time doing that," he said.

    Secretary Gates agrees, but cautions that the outcome of the nine-year-old Afghan war is still not certain.

    "I do feel like the pieces are coming together, but I would continue to say what we have said all along. The gains are fragile and reversible. The fight this spring and this summer is going to be very tough. And that'll really in many respects be the acid test of how effective the progress that we've made is going to be," he said.

    It seems as if U.S. officials describe every year, every season, as a crucial test of the Afghan campaign. But this spring and summer that will perhaps be more true than ever.

    With all the additional foreign and Afghan troops, the new strategy and initial success in some places, the coming months will demonstrate whether the security gains will hold.

    It also will be a chance to see, as foreign troops begin a gradual withdrawal, whether the people will allign with the government or revert to supporting the insurgents, whether the Afghan government and security forces will continue to improve, and ultimately whether officials will be able to stop using the well-worn phrase "fragile and reversible" to describe progress in Afghanistan.

    You May Like

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora