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Afghanistan: the new strategy

Military commanders discuss the revised war strategy being used in southern Kandahar.

Around 6,000 concrete walls of varying size have been erected around the city as part of a new “ring of security.” The ring is composed of 13 checkpoints. A battalion of paratroopers now man the checkpoints along with a platoon of Afghan national police.

The Afghan national police troops are thought by the U.S. military to be more professional than local police forces. In Kandahar, the police are almost universally despised, largely because they often demand bribes from residents and shake down travelers and truckers.

Several Kandahar City residents said they were happy with the new security ring. But Hodges’ personal translator, Waheed, said they might not have been speaking from their hearts. After decades of war, they’ve learned to hedge their bets.

“They are afraid that later on the Afghan police, or Army, or whatever, they will come to them and hurt them,” said Waheed, who is an Afghan-American and the former editor of a newspaper in Kabul. “So they are afraid.”

In an effort to improve the police force, the Americans have dispatched more than 500 military police trainers to Kandahar City — five times the number of trainers that were here just a few months ago.

Hodges said he hopes the added security can provide the space needed to improve the police force and allow the Afghan government institutions in Kandahar to expand and strengthen.

Gen. Carter said that means setting up a bureaucracy to register and track everything from cars to religious schools, vehicles and security companies. There’s need for a census, he said, and for a functioning justice system to resolve conflicts.

“It’s really about bringing order to a very disorderly situation,” Carter said in an interview.

Kandahar has a governor and a mayor, but their offices are woefully understaffed. Mayor Ghulam Hayder Hamidi, an Afghan-American, is known as an anti-corruption crusader. But there’s little he can do for his city of 500,000 with his staff of 65. He’s supposed to have 119, but he fired many workers because of incompetency or corruption.

“We don’t want to hire students who never went to schools, who are only hired by tribes, warlords, drug dealers or connections,” he said. “We are looking to hire educated and good people. That’s a reason we have less people.”

Intimidation and assassinations by the Taliban might be another reason. Hamidi’s deputy was killed this spring as he prayed in a city mosque. Other qualified workers have been snatched up by the better paying international organizations and foreign armies in Afghanistan.

The governor of Kandahar province, Tooryalai Wesa, is in a similar situation, but on a grander scale. He said an increase in salaries for government positions is meant to improve the number of qualified candidates in his office. But the 18 districts in Kandahar, like counties in an American state, pose another problem.

There aren’t nearly enough people to fill the positions anytime soon.

“We need judges, prosecutors, financial people, census people, line ministries, agriculture, education, rural development, public health,” Wesa said in an interview in his office. “But it will be difficult to have all of these people at once.”

The most difficult districts in the province are the focus of this summer and fall’s campaign in Kandahar. The second phase will take place in Arghandab, which Hodges said is 50 percent under government control and 50 percent “contested.”

The third part will focus on Zhari district, where the Taliban basically have free reign. There will be clearing operations this fall, after Ramadan and the grape harvest, when the weather cools, military officials said.

Hodges said building local governments in Afghanistan is partly why the Kandahar, or Hamkari, campaign is different from February’s Marjah operation.

“What we knew before Marjah … is that there’s no point in clearing an area if you’re not ready to hold it,” he said.