A senior Afghan military officer in the southeastern part of the country says his forces are implementing the first Afghan-planned and executed operation to clear Taleban fighters from his area and establish government authority. The officer spoke from Afghanistan to reporters at the Pentagon. VOA's Al Pessin reports.
Afghan Major General Abdul Khaliq says more than 1,400 Afghan troops have been involved in the operation in parts of Ghazni Province for nearly three weeks.
"Within these 20 days of operation, we have opened the schools, clinics and the community centers which the Taleban claimed the ANA and the ANP would not be able to open," said Major General Abdul Khaliq.
"ANA" is the Afghan National Army and "ANP" is the Afghan National Police.
General Khaliq says his forces are supported by troops from the U.S.-led coalition, which continues to work with Afghan forces in some areas where Taleban insurgents are active, to supplement NATO security efforts. The general says the effort, called Operation Maiwand, is designed to "separate the people from the insurgents." To do that, he says his forces distributed 180 tons of humanitarian supplies and provided medical treatment to more than 1,800 people.
General Khaliq says small groups of Taleban fighters challenged his forces, but there were no major battles.
"The Taleban couldn't engage directly with the ANA and ANP because they know that they don't have such force and resistance to have direct engagement with the ANA," he said.
The general says the Taleban remains a threat because it receives training, weapons and money from al-Qaida sources outside Afghanistan. But he could not comment on claims by some U.S. officials that Iran is sending weapons to the Taleban.
The commander of coalition forces working in support of General Khaliq's troops is U.S. Army Colonel Martin Schweitzer. At the same news conference, he said the general's plan calls for leaving enough Afghan and foreign troops behind when the operation is over to prevent the Taleban from moving back into the area.
"General Khaliq has developed a plan, a stay-behind plan," said Colonel Schweitzer. "There's going to be about four times the amount of security forces from ANA, ANP and coalition that will remain here to further develop and enhance the security environment, allowing the government to get down here to start talking to the people, to start providing for them, particularly in some of these remote village areas."
Colonel Schweitzer says the key to the operation is to convince local people that the Afghan Army and government are a force for good. He says 60 of the 83 local councils in the area have voted to support the government, in spite of Taleban efforts to intimidate people and to use the media to exaggerate their power. Colonel Schweitzer says that is why Taleban fighters take over police stations, even though, he says, they can't hold them for very long.
"They come in for about an hour or two," he said. "They'll set a room on fire and then as soon as the ANP or ANA come back in force, or coalition with ANA come back in force the Taleban immediately pull out of the district center. Frankly, they control nothing in Afghanistan, not for anything more than an hour."
The VOA reporter in Kandahar province says a district headquarters taken by Taleban forces on Monday, was re-taken by government forces on Tuesday.
Colonel Schweitzer says the Afghan police stations are vulnerable to such attacks and temporary takeovers, at least for now. But he says the Afghan National Army has made great strides in the last two years and now has the lead in dealing with local people - a situation he says the people much prefer to having foreign troops routinely on their village streets.