26 November 2006

Afghanistan's Fledgling Army Joins Fight

Amidst all of the negative reports concerning Iraq, there has been considerable silence regarding Afghanistan. The newly formed Afghan Army has grown from former members of the Northern Alliance, to a legitimate force.

"They are our exit strategy," said Maj. Francoise Bisillon, who is part of the Canadian team that lives with, trains and mentors Afghan soldiers in Panjwayi.

Their short morning patrol might not seem like dangerous work, but the area is NATO's front line against Taliban militants. Clashes erupt in nearby fields almost every day.

This year alone, 34 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Kandahar province, most of them in insurgent attacks near the Argandab River, a fertile valley of orchards and vineyards that is a green oasis in an expanse of brown desert and barren mountains.

Close-quarter fighting over the summer in the province's Panjwayi, Pashmul and Zhari areas killed hundreds of militants, but dozens of civilians also died — deaths that have soured relations between locals and Western troops.

Lt. Col. Shirin Shah Kowbandi's chin and right palm bear scars from clashes with Taliban militants in the country's north in the 1990s, when the hard-line Islamic militia ruled most of Afghanistan.

A towering man in green fatigues, he has spent most of his adult life fighting the Taliban, first as a member of the Northern Alliance and now as commander of the Afghan National Army's 2nd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 205th Corps in Kandahar province, the militia's former heartland.

When the Taliban ruled, the lines of battle and combatants were clear, he said.

"Now, there is no front line," Kowbandi said. "Four or five guys will attack and then run into the village where they hide their weapons."

Kowbandi complains that his unit has only half the men required, few weapons and old equipment. Some of their assault rifles jammed during the summer offensive, while barrels on others were bent. Recent rains left their dun-colored pickup trucks bogged down in thick mud.

"If we have better weapons and equipment, we can beat the enemy faster," Kowbandi said, before turning his gaze to some Canadian armored vehicles.

"If I only had those," he said.

I wish you did, too.

Open Post Thanks to Basil's Blog, Woman Honor Thyself, Pirate's Cove, Jo's Cafe, and Point Five.

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