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Afghan Army Could Operate Solo by Spring
Military.com  |  By Christian Lowe  |  October 17, 2007
The commander in charge of training Afghan national army forces and police near Kandahar said Tuesday that country's armed forces should be ready to conduct large-scale operations without significant coalition assistance or planning by late spring of 2008.

Col. Thomas McGrath said recent Corps-sized training exercises he'd conducted with Afghan army headquarters groups were so successful, he felt it would soon be time to cut larger combat units lose to operate independently in the Taliban hotbeds of southern Afghanistan.

"We assisted the Afghans in the development and execution of independent combat operations" during the October exercise, said McGrath, commander of Afghan Regional Security Integration Command-South, based in Kandahar. "By sometime after the spring we're expecting independent, brigade-sized operations by the Afghan national army."

"The ANA are very aggressive, they're fearless, they're not afraid to engage the enemy in combat and they're not afraid to put their lives at risk," he told military bloggers during an Oct. 16 telephone interview.

The Afghan training program stands in contrast to similar efforts in Iraq, where only a handful of Iraqi army units are able to operate against the insurgency and al Qaeda fighters independently.

And it's not just the Army that's gearing up to take the fight to Taliban holdouts; McGrath is getting the Afghan national police in up to speed as well.

Through an aggressive re-training program that balances "policing with counterinsurgency operations," McGrath hopes to incorporate Afghan national police into the neighborhood-level anti-Taliban struggle.

"It can be kinetic, which is 20 to 25 percent of it. And it can be non-kinetic, which is about 75 percent of it," McGrath said. "I'm very optimistic about the future here in Afghanistan.

While his troops work to train up Afghan army and police forces so that U.S. and NATO forces can eventually hand over security to the Afghans themselves, the coalition has racked up some significant wins against the Taliban.

In early September, coalition forces were credited with killing more than 300 Taliban in a week long offensive against insurgent holdouts in and around Kandahar. McGrath said the Taliban are recruiting foreign fighters with little military experience, crediting the high casualty rates to the "ineptitude" of Taliban fighters and leadership rather than resurgence.

"In this type of war, when you mass against forces like us ... without firepower, we're able to destroy them quite easily and we've shown that over the last six to seven months," McGrath said. "They're bringing in cohorts of young men who really don't know any better and it's been a colossal failure for them."

The Taliban have recently switched to more asymmetric attacks as the winter cold sets in, preferring kidnapping, assassination and roadside bombs to all-out assaults, McGrath said. Some of the gruesome attacks, including the recent hanging of a 15 year-old boy in Helmand province in which Taliban rebels stuffed American currency into the corpse, have deterred the Afghan population from supporting the insurgents.

With nowhere to go and no support, McGrath is beginning to see Taliban resistance crumble.

"What they've been able to do is just terrorize people. And people are getting tired of it, and you can tell that because they don't have the local fighters," McGrath explained. "There's a lot of fighters down here but they're not the same as we saw back in 2001; they're coming from outside and they're just coming up here and getting killed."

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