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U.S. soldiers ask 'who is the enemy?' in Kandahar

U.S. soldiers ask 'who is the enemy?' in Kandahar

As Afghan village leader Gul Agha pours another cup of tea for American soldiers sitting under his grape trellis, they get to the point of their visit: they don't want him to quit.
As the U.S. military leads a massive build-up of forces in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan's most important battle ground where the outcome of America's longest war overseas may be decided, the toughest job is knowing who to trust.
When 1st squadron 71st cavalry regiment arrived in the province last month, outgoing Canadian soldiers told them that as an ex-Taliban, the village head was their best source of intelligence on the bombs being laid in their path.
Unfortunately, as they tried to build bridges, Gul Agha quit.
"We have no informants right now, we're still working on it. We have been here a month," said Lieutenant Joe Theinert, 24.
"They'll eventually come around. They don't know you. They don't trust you when you first arrive," he said.
The fight for Kandahar is seen as crucial to a U.S. strategy to end the nearly nine-year and costly conflict against the Taliban.
In December, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 extra American troops into Afghanistan, where the vast majority are disembarking in the south, and pushing the total nationwide NATO deployment to 150,000 by August.
The U.S. force in Afghanistan has roughly tripled since Obama took office in January 2009 and at 94,000 has now exceeded the 92,000 based in Iraq.
But public support is dwindling. Obama wants U.S. troops to start leaving from July 2011 and has limited the objective to securing key population centers from the Taliban and prepping Afghan government forces to take over.
The counter-insurgency doctrine means that in Kandahar's Dand district, as in countless areas of Afghanistan, troops are working on security and development in a bid to win over Afghans and leave secure structures in place.
U.S. Captain Jon Villasenor, 36, said the toughest aspect was knowing who to trust on the battlefield of a guerrilla war.
"We don't know who the enemy is," he said.
"I don't feel I'm fighting Taliban, I feel I'm maybe fighting a criminal element or maybe a disenfranchised element that may be influenced by Taliban.
"I wish he'd wear a uniform and a name plate that said 'enemy'. Once I understand his motivations and ideology I can target that and leverage that against him.
"Until then I'm kind of fumbling around," he said.
As Afghan President Hamid Karzai considers opening dialogue with the Taliban ahead of a "peace jirga," or national conference of political and community leaders in early June, Villasenor said lower-level fighters are motivated less by ideology than by money and fear.
In Berlanday village, Gul Agha tells the Americans he is on their side, but after reportedly surviving two assassination attempts, repeated beatings and death threats for working with their predecessors, he has had enough.
"I promised to support the Americans and Canadians but I haven't done that," Gul Agha told Theinert and his sergeants as they drank more tea, their body armour set aside.
"There isn't security, they put IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in this village, so I have to stop," he added.


Updated : 2021-01-15 21:51 GMT+08:00