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The Sandbox and Areas Reports Thread (December 2006)

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A soldier's life is one of extremes; even the lulls are tension-filled

Globe and Mail, By CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD, December 28

As Elmore Leonard wrote in Tishomingo Blues, a novel whose climatic scene occurs in the midst of one of those American Civil War re-enactments with thousands of folks dressed up in period gear and carrying swords and pistols, "What they said about being in the army all hurry up and wait? It was even true pretending being in the army."

This is, sort of, what Globe and Mail photographer Kevin Van Paassen and I are doing here in the Panjwai valley of southern Afghanistan with Charles Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Canadian Regiment.

Officially, we are embedded media, but what we are really doing is getting a taste of the soldier's life. We are pretending.

Even four or five weeks ago, with this company and its now-famous heroics, that would have meant daily TICs (or Troops in Contact) and shooting, and before that, in the fall, it would have meant we saw much worse, for Charles Company Combat Team has borne the brunt of the casualties of this tour and done most of the hard fighting.

But a soldier's life is nothing if not composed of extremes -- it's either too hectic or too quiet -- and with NATO's Operation Baaz Tsuka wound down, and the normally quiet winter season upon even this volatile part of the country, Charles Company has entered one of the lulls. Their orders now are to basically hold secure the series of little bases they have already established...

The goal of Op Baaz Tsuka was to drive the hard-core Taliban out -- largely with a massive show of force aimed at discouraging fighters while simultaneously other soldiers delivered rudimentary aid and improved infrastructure and held endless shuras with leaders, all of that aimed at discouraging locals from helping the hard-liners -- and it appears to have succeeded, at least in the short term...

We have picked up the boys' lingo. "When in doubt, rack out," we say to one another frequently. We know that once a day, our crew commander is at "cohort," and we think we know it means a meeting. We can talk, faux-knowledgeably, about A-10s, Apaches, Chinooks and the Leopard tanks, which the boys describe, with a hint of envy, as "our slightly cooler friends." We, like them, speak of our colleagues who stay in warmth and luxury back at the big air field with sneering condescension.

But we are, at bottom, such losers. The soldiers can pitch a tent in a minute, slit open a rat with a flick of a knife, hang a tarp just so. I bought a nice, mean knife the last time I was in Afghanistan, and I can flick it open but can't get it to close once I do, so I never use it.

The other morning, predawn because we all get up at the crack of six so that we have a full three hours of standing around in the cold before anything happens, Mr. Van P was helping me pack my kit.

"Blatch," he cried, "do you normally roll your bivvy bag?"

"Kevin," I snapped at what in the dark I hoped was his direction, "a bivvy bag is not part of my normal routine."

I have only been able to find an excerpt from a story Dec. 29 by The National Post’s Brian Hutchinson at Norman's Spectator:

Speaking to reporters later, Lt.-Col. Lavoie suggested his troops will engage with the Taliban early next week, after the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. Among others, soldiers from Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and a squadron of tanks will be involved.

The new battle procedure is "a bit of a mopping-up phase, into areas where there are still remnants of Taliban strongholds," he said. "I can't get into the specifics of where those places are. I'm re-posturing forces now."

Operation Baaz Tsuka launched two weeks ago and involves troops from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands.

Perhaps reflecting the Dutch preference to engage in combat only as a last resort, the campaign has seen little activity. This has prompted grumbling among some Canadian soldiers, who feel the Taliban must always be approached with extreme force and engaged directly, at any reasonable opportunity [emphasis added].

Canadian officers acknowledge that Maj.-Gen. Van Loon did not want any coalition casualties over Christmas. There were none, as most of the fighting that did occur was sporadic and light, or was a one-sided U.S. aerial attack. To date, not a single Canadian shot has been fired during the campaign.

Eid period begins today and ends on Monday.

Troops digging In Until After Muslim holiday
Insurgents Still Close

Brian Hutchinson, National Post, 29 Dec 06

Canadian troops defending key positions west of Kandahar city poured into this strategic strongpoint yesterday and made final preparations for a much-anticipated clash with the Taliban.  The day ended with a forceful reminder that insurgents remain active and are nearby. At about 7:15 p.m. local time, the Taliban launched a volley of rocket and mortar fire just east of Mas'um Ghar.  It is believed the attack was aimed at Afghan National Army soldiers conducting patrols with Canadian troops in the area.  After two loud explosions, return machine-gun fire was heard. All personnel at Mas'um Ghar were ordered to "stand to" and don protective gear before moving inside concrete bunkers or climbing into armoured vehicles. There were no reports of any Canadian or ANA casualties.  The activity came less than an hour after the Canadian battle group commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Omer Lavoie, had described to reporters plans for the next phase of Operation Baaz Tsuka, a NATO and Afghan security forces campaign aimed at removing remaining insurgents from the area while delivering material aid and relief to war-weary Afghan farmers and their families ....

No proof soldier deserted comrades in Afghanistan: DND
CBC Online, 29 Dec 06
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The Department of National Defence is denying a newspaper report alleging that an Ontario-based soldier deserted his comrades during a fierce battle in Afghanistan.  "There's no proof of those allegations," DND spokesman Maj. Mike Audette told CBC News in a phone interview Friday.  Frontline soldiers are quoted in a Globe and Mail report Friday saying that a veteran non-commissioned officer in Charles Company of the 1st Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment refused to assist his comrades during a battle in September. The Royal Canadian Regiment is based in Petawawa, Ont., northwest of Ottawa ....

Canadian officer's desertion unproven: military
Bill Graveland, Canadian Press, 29 Dec 06
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It was a dark day for Canadian troops: the beginning of Operation Medusa and a day when four Canadian soldiers died in a bloody battle with the Taliban.  Now there are allegations that a non-commissioned officer deserted his men when they were pinned down by the Taliban during the battle in September.  A published report in the Globe and Mail on Friday quoted members of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment's Charles Company, who accuse a sergeant of abandoning them in the heat of battle. The sergeant has not been publicly identified.  Maj. Matthew Sprague, who commands Charles Company, wouldn't discuss the soldier on Thursday except to say tersely that he is now out of the army and that the alleged incident that led to his leaving is "in the past, as far as I'm concerned." ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

Canadian presence in Afghanistan prominent in Harper, Jean new year messages
Terry Pedwell, Canadian Press, via Macleans.ca, 29 Dec 06
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Canada's military presence in Afghanistan figures prominently in end-of-year messages from the prime minister and the Governor General.  One of the most important things he did this year, says Stephen Harper, was visit soldiers and other Canadians working in Afghanistan. "For me, the highlight of 2006 was visiting our troops, diplomats and aide workers in Afghanistan," Harper said in a recorded message to Canadians ....

New Year's Message from Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean,
Governor General of Canada, January 1, 2007

Governor General of Canada's web page, 29 Dec 06
Article Link

“Let me start by looking back at 2006, beginning with the year’s most recent events. I have just returned from my first State visit as governor general of Canada. I crossed the African continent from Algeria, Mali and Ghana to South Africa and back north to Morocco.  Each and every moment of the trip was unique and reinforced my belief that we have far too few opportunities to witness Africa’s bright, hopeful side. Throughout the trip, I set out to shed new light on the continent— showcasing untold perspectives and time-honoured traditions and cultures. I feel it is important to share with my fellow Canadians the vision of an Africa that is full of promise—a continent that is  committed to finding its own solutions to the enormous challenges of the day—an Africa that is working towards stability, security, prosperity and freedom. It is this image of Africa that struck me so deeply.  And it is this new Africa that Canada has long supported. An Africa whose remarkable, often unseen, efforts we now celebrate together so that it may take its rightful place in the world community.  I will never forget the faces of women, men and children who have chosen hope over pessimism, action over a sense of hopelessness. They are people who are changing an entire continent, one step at a time. I paid tribute to them, on behalf of all Canadians, sharing our admiration and friendship. It is this same spirit of togetherness that, in many ways, has been the hallmark of the past year.

I was deeply touched by the kind words and trust that I shared with so many Canadians. Your stories and experiences for bettering the lives of your fellow citizens are truly remarkable.  This important work, often done out of the spotlight, makes all the difference. I look forward to pursuing my discussions with Canadians who bring hope to their communities in each province and territory, every city and town.

Certainly, we must all celebrate and salute the community spirit and actions of our fellow citizens. I also know that this has been a difficult year for many families. My thoughts are especially with our soldiers in Afghanistan and their loved ones—who have endured great hardship. Indeed, they are making great sacrifices.  Let me share with you that everywhere I have been—everywhere—I have been moved by the courage, energy, generosity and openness of the Canadian people.

For me, that openness is living proof of our success as a country. That openness is also our greatest message of hope for humanity.  As we embark on a new year, dear friends, let us not forget this important message that we, as Canadians, can bring to the world. And let us strengthen our resolve to spread this message far and wide.  My husband Jean-Daniel Lafond, my daughter Marie-Éden and the Rideau Hall team join me in wishing you all peace, health, happiness and serenity.”

Taliban chief pledges to drive out foreign forces, as 12 of his fighters killed
Alisa Tang, Associated Press, 29 Dec 06
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Fugitive Taliban chief Mullah Omar pledged to drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan in a statement released Friday, as NATO and Afghan forces killed more than 12 of his fighters in the volatile south.  The purported message from Omar, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed, urged the Taliban to "sacrifice" their lives and "never submit or accept defeat."  "I am confident that blood of innocent people and mujahedeen will yield results," said the statement, timed for the Muslim religious festival of Eid al-Adha. "The enemy will have to quit the region with humiliati on and disgrace."  "Afghans have a history of expelling their enemies as no enemy and invader has quit Afghanistan willingly," it said.  The message, sent in Pashto language with an accompanying English translation, was received by The Associated Press in Pakistan in an e-mail from Taliban spokesman Mohammed Hanif ....

Taleban Leader Vows to Drive Foreign Troops From Afghanistan
Voice of America News, 29 Dec 06
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Fugitive Taleban leader Mullah Omar says he is confident his followers will drive foreign troops out of Afghanistan.  The message was sent to news agencies Friday. In it, he says Afghanistan has a history of expelling its enemies by force and that no aggressive force has left the country willingly.  Omar also dismissed a proposal by Afghan and Pakistani officials to hold tribal councils on both sides of their border to end the violence. He said the councils are a "trap" created by aggressors and puppets ....

Syed Saleem Shahzad, ADNKronos International (ITA), 29 Dec 06
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Foreign troops will be forced to leave Afghanistan by the Taliban, the hardline Islamist group's fugitive leader said in a rare, signed statement to the press on Friday."They came to Afghanistan readily but will be fleeing against their will... It is the history of Afghanistan that all foreign invaders are eventually defeated with much humiliation," Mullah Mohammad Omar allegedly said in the message.  The signed missive issued to the press by the Taliban’s spokesperson Mohammed Hanif to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha is a political statement on the Taliban's upcoming strategy which opposes any political mediation and is solely aimed at forcing foreign troops out of the country and ousting from power the Western-backed administration of president Hamid Karzai.  The statement coincides with the intensification of fighting in the volatile southern Helmand province after a brief lull during the winter season. Fighting could reach Kandahar as part of a Taliban strategy to conquer the city before they start what they hope will be an armed uprising across Afghanistan in the spring of 2007 ....

Afghanistan-Iran sign MoU on economic cooperation
Pajhwok Afghan News, 28 Dec 06
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Afghanistan and Iran Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to bolster bilateral cooperation in fields of economic relations and trade in a year.  The MoU was signed by the Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta and his Iranian counterpart visiting Kabul Manochehr Muttaki in their second meeting.  Spanta told reporters after the meeting that in addition to of economic cooperation they also discussed issues of cultural exchange and security situation. He said aim of the MoU was to boost up economic ties between the two countries.  He said Iran was a historical friend of Afghanistan and that its strained relations with US, a strategic ally of the latter, will not cast any effects on friendship of the two neighbors. "Iran is a good ally of Afghanistan in war on terrorism and drugs and its nuclear activities pose no threat to us," said Spanta.  Muttaki, for his part, termed signing of the MoU as an important document for doubling commercial and economic cooperation between the two countries.  He said Iran was committed to take active part in reconstruction of its war-ravaged neighbour because stability and prosperity in Afghanistan was beneficial for Iran and the whole world.  On the issue of presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, Muttaki said the international forces were in Afghanistan for keeping security. He said the foreign forces would withdraw when the Afghan forces became able to shoulder the security ....

Pakistan border plan is 'psychological warfare'
Pajhwok Afghan News, 28 Dec 06
Article Link

The Defence Ministry said it would use diplomatic means and would put pressure on Pakistan through tripartite military commission to abandon its fencing and mining plan of the joint border with Afghanistan.  Spokesman for the defence ministry Zahir Azimi told reporters on Thursday that Pakistan decision on fencing and mining the Durand Line was a psychological warfare.  He said enhancing border security was needed sincere efforts by Pakistan.  Azimi said the solution to the problem would never be separation of people of the same community living on both sides of the border. Azimi said process of formation of the Afghan National Army (ANA) was still continued with heavy funding from the international allies ....

Articles found 30 December, 2006

Taliban: Execution will intensify jihad
POSTED: 0736 GMT (1536 HKT), December 30, 2006
Article Link

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- A top commander of Afghanistan's Taliban said on Saturday that the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would galvanize Muslim opposition to the United States.

Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, a former Taliban defense minister and top insurgent commander, also said Saddam's execution on the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival -- marking the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca -- was a provocation.

"Saddam's hanging on the day of Eid is a challenge to Muslims," Obaidullah told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"His death will boost the morale of Muslims. The jihad in Iraq will be intensified and attacks on invader forces will increase," he said. "Thousands of people will rise up with hatred for America."

The Taliban intensified their war against the Afghan government and the U.S., British and other Western troops supporting it this year.

That brought the most intense violence since U.S.-led troops ousted the hardline Islamists in 2001, and the Taliban have vowed to step up their campaign in the coming spring.

Obaidullah said U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were fighting Muslims, and that is why Saddam was executed.

"Bush and Blair have launched a crusade against Muslims. Saddam was hanged because he was a Muslim, while slaves like Jalal Talabani in Iraq and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan have been given power," he said.

"Muslims should not expect any good from these people," he said, referring to the Iraqi and Afghan presidents.

"Muslims should unite against the infidels, join the jihad and support the mujahideen because jihad has become an obligation for Muslims all over the world."

"God willing, both Afghanistan and Iraq will prove to be another Vietnam for America ... God willing, the invader forces in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon face defeat."

In Kabul, Karzai declined to comment on Saddam's execution, saying it was a matter for the government of Iraq and would have no impact on Afghanistan
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(AGI) - Rome, Dec 28 - Italy will not withdraw from Afghanistan, Italian PM Romano Prodi promised during the end-of-year conference, admitting that he is not worried about the re-financing of missions abroad; the vote is expected in Parliament by February. "The commitment in Afghanistan was made with a broad consensus. We have decided to continue the mission and will do so, though quite aware of the difficult Afghan situation," which "public awareness has too often underestimated". Among the problems of Afghanistan, Prodi listed the fragmentation of the country, the expansion of the opium market and the weakness of the central government. All these issues, the Prime Minister warned, "must guide us to finding a political solution. It is a rationale which must be promoted, because the problem requires it, but I'm not worried about any particular difficulties in the decision to be made."
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(AGI) - Sassari, Dec 28 - Next February the Sassari Brigade will go to Heart, in Afghanistan, for the international peace-keeping mission in which the Italian army is involved too. This was confirmed this evening by Defence Minister Arturo paris, in Mores, near Sassari, to celebrate the 107 years of Giovanni Antonio Carta, the last soldier of the Brigade which fought at Carso during the First World War. In reply to journalists, Parisi repeated that no Italian soldier will depart for Iraq, where the FA Ministry expects to launch a humanitarian mission in Baghdad and in the province of Dhi Qar, in which the Sassari people operated. (AGI) -
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Soldier in Afghanistan seeks aid for locals
By Paula Vogler Thursday, December 28, 2006 - Updated: 02:39 PM EST
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Captain Benjamin Tupper is spending Christmas in Afghanistan and conditions there rival winters in New England in terms of harshness, debilitating cold and bleak outlooks.
Tupper’s National Guard unit, embedded in Afghan “kandaks” or battalions, is training, mentoring and leading Afghan soldiers to handle their own country’s security issues. However, as dangerous as that may be at times, it is the plight of some of the locals that has Tupper’s attention.

While Tupper and his men go out on missions in four to six layers of clothing including high tech Goretex and Thinsulate, he sees children still in summer clothes of thin cotton shirts and pants, many barefoot walking in the snow.

“I inevitably end up a shivering mass of flesh and body armor,” said Tupper in a posting on his blog on the Internet. “Trekking through snow and ice, these children go about their daily business apparently oblivious to the cold. But we all know they are not oblivious to it; they are suffering through it.”

Tupper is asking for people to send him gloves, hats, coats, socks, scarves and warm clothing so that he can pass those items along to the children he comes in contact with.

“Just within 3 miles of our base there are literally hundreds of children who have absolutely no cold weather clothing,” said Tupper.

Teddy bears and beanie babies are also appreciated.

“Afghan children live a toy free existence and the smiles on the faces of the little boys and girls we give these out to are priceless,” Tupper said.
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Carlos Guerra: Will Iraq and Afghanistan wars produce a thorny new dilemma?
Web Posted: 12/29/2006 10:40 PM CST San Antonio Express-News
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If the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have turned into seemingly interminable quagmires, brace yourself for the policy and moral dilemmas we may soon face.
National Guardsmen and reservists are already serving multiple tours, and active-duty terms are being extended. But even so, our military is seriously strained, and sending 20,000 more troops to Iraq will only worsen the situation.

Young men must still register for the draft, but opposition to its revival is so widespread that it isn't likely to happen soon.

Defense Department officials insist that they are having no problems maintaining troop levels or meeting recruitment goals.

But recruitment and re-enlistment incentives have been raised to five- and even six-digit levels, and the Pentagon has also lowered standards for recruits and raised the maximum age for enlistment.

The all-volunteer military that once turned away high-school dropouts now offers programs like Army Plus, which gives potential recruits crash GED courses.

Now, another little-discussed element that has helped keep troop levels up is being discussed as a way to boost future recruitment of better-qualified enlistees.

Changes in the law have made it easier and quicker for documented immigrants to become citizens by volunteering and serving. Last year, at least 30,000 noncitizens were wearing U.S. military uniforms and almost 5,000 became citizens. About 100 of these soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But as our military entanglements drag on — and officials look for ways to avoid a new draft — some policy wonks are openly encouraging the Pentagon to recruit foreigners, here and abroad.
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Mullah Dadullah- America’s new Frankenstein in Afghanistan  
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Mullah Dadullah Akhund, the ruthless Taliban leader in charge of the militia’s campaign against NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southern and eastern Afghanistan is fast becoming what Abu Musaib al Zarqawi had become for US forces in Iraq.

He shares many traits with Zarqawi, though unlike the slain al Qaeda Iraq chief, he is disabled, having lost one of his legs after stepping on a landmine in Herat in eastern Afghanistan in 1994 while battling the Ahmad Shah Masood led Northern Alliance.

He has a fondness for beheading his captives, and is feared by both his opponents and followers. He is also known to behead his followers who disobey him, but is still respected as a leader who can deal a crushing blow to his adversaries.

Deriving sadistic pleasure – by beheading captives – is not the only trait Mullah Dadullah shares with Zarqawi.
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Local student brings hope to Afghanistan
Hayward resident helps country's children find shelter, education
By Kristofer Noceda, STAFF WRITER  Article Last Updated: 12/30/2006 02:39:04 AM PST
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HAYWARD — Deeba Haider takes restoring war-torn Afghanistan personally.
Never mind that her father sought refuge from his homeland because of death threats while working with the United Nations, bringing his family to Fremont five years ago.

Or the fact that her mother was under house arrest and lost many family members during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Her main reason comes from a passage in the Quran that calls for Muslims to help those in need.

"My parents have both gone through some hardships while in Afghanistan and I want to fix that so nobody experiences what they went through," she said. "But I want to do it through the power of education."

Haider, 21, and a senior at California State University, East Bay, has dedicated most of her spare time and efforts to the Children of Afghanistan Hope Project, a nonprofit she co-founded three years ago.

Through fundraisers held on campus and in Fremont, where a large Afghan population resides, CAHP has been able to open two schools exclusively for Afghan orphans and girls.

Haider says girls in Afghanistan weren't allowed to attend schools under the Taliban rule, and she wanted to do something about it.

So she opened Kampani Girls Literacy and Vocational Training School, located in the Kabul province of Afghanistan, earlier this year. The school currently has 84 girls enrolled, learning to read and write. Students also receive vocational training in sewing and textiles from two
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Idaho National Guard members plan to watch Monday's Fiesta Bowl — complete with a barbecue
By Heath Druzin Idaho Statesman | Edition Date: 12/30/06
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The "BSU" sign is a reminder of home. The 30 mm high explosive rounds that spell it out are a reminder of their mission.
The sign is from Kandahar Air Field in Afghanistan, where members of the Idaho National Guard's 1-183rd Aviation Battalion have been serving since February. The soldiers are excited about Monday's Fiesta Bowl, which pits Boise State against Oklahoma, and aren't letting a 6 a.m. start time stop them from having a barbecue and watching the football game.

"There's a lot of guys here that are huge BSU fans — that are borderline fanatics," Chief Warrant Officer Shane McKenna told the Idaho Statesman by phone from Kandahar.

Two of those fans are Sgts. Jeremy and Jason Hopkins, brothers who followed the Broncos throughout their undefeated season via streaming audio on the Internet, Armed Forces Network broadcasts and Web articles. Both are eagerly awaiting the game, which airs around sunrise because of the 11›-hour time difference between Arizona and Kandahar.

"It's a big morale booster for us," Jeremy Hopkins said.

The soldiers in Kandahar are some of the 250 Idahoans serving a yearlong mission throughout Afghanistan with the 183rd on helicopter crews. New Year's for the soldiers in Kandahar will be much like it is for many fans in Boise: a big-screen television, barbecued meat and lots of blue and orange. The game will be piped in via satellite.

McKenna, a 1995 graduate of Centennial High who played defensive line for the Broncos in 1995 and 1996, said the soldiers are going to try to make the base as much like home as possible for the game. They are planning a barbecue, despite what likely will be a frosty morning in the midst of the long, cold Afghan winter.

"It kind of transports you back there in a way," McKenna said.
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Afghanistan Again: Somalia Falling to Al Qaeda
by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross A Pajamas Media Exclusive
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Al Qaeda’s allies in Somalia are on the verge of seizing the secular government’s last stronghold - opening the possibility of a “new Afghanistan” to shelter America’s enemies.

Somalia is at a critical juncture. In the coming days, the world will learn whether the transitional federal government is strong enough to fend off the terrorists’ assault. If it fails, al-Qaeda will win its first countrywide safe haven since 9/11.

The radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a Taliban-like group linked to Osama bin Laden, seized the Somali capital of Mogadishu in June and has steadily gained control of strategic cities throughout the country since then. Its main rival, the secular transitional federal government, is now confined to the south-central Somali city of Baidoa.

Baidoa is heavily fortified and protected by a large contingent of Ethiopian troops but its defenses will not hold, intelligence sources tell Pajamas Media. Ethiopia has allied itself with Somalia’s embattled transitional federal government.

Reached by Pajamas Media, Dahir Jibreel, the transitional government’s permanent secretary in charge of international cooperation, confirmed that a massive offensive is underway. Jibreel said that the ICU launched an “offensive on the seat of the government from three directions: Burkhakabo, Idale and Dinsor.”

Jibreel is guardedly optimistic, noting that the Islamic radicals “sustained heavy losses.”

“They will overrun Baidoa,” a military intelligence officer told Pajamas Media. “It’s only a question of when.”

Prior to this attack, the ICU fought against Ethiopian forces three times in open battle. Standing armies generally defeat irregular forces in such situations, but the ICU won all three encounters. The radical group may have won a fourth victory over the Ethiopians yesterday by capturing the town of Idale, about seventy kilometers south of Baidoa. Jibreel, however, contends that the transitional government actually maintains control of that town.

These repeated ICU victories over the Ethiopian army provide reason to believe that the Ethiopians will be unable to save Baidoa.
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Somalia: President says Somalia will not be like Afghanistan and Iraq
Fri. December 29, 2006 01:36 pm.
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(SomaliNet) Somalia’s interim president Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed said on Friday Somalia will not be like Afghanistan and Iraq – his government won in the fighting with Islamist movement with the help of Ethiopian forces.

In news conference held in Baidoa city, the base of the transitional federal government, shortly after meeting with the Ethiopian foreign minister Siyoum Mesfin in Biadoa, president Yusuf said that his government could now handle the situation in Somalia, if needed it will ask for African troops to help the government establish the security.

Siyoum Mesfin, the Ethiopian foreign minister met with President Abdulahi Yusuf over the political issues between Somalia and Ethiopia and best ways to promote peace in the region in prevent of any terrorist actions in horn of Africa.

Mr. Yusuf thanked Ethiopian government for the help it offered interim government in order to stand on its feet and control whole Somalia.

“My government in collaboration with its neighbor (Ethiopian government) won to oust the so-called Islamic Courts and its terrorist groups from the capital and now my government is with its people working together how to restore peace and security,” Yusuf said.

President Yusuf also said that he had raised with the Ethiopian foreign minister over issues relating to how to bring peace and stability in the region and disarm the militias and then promote relations between Somalia and Ethiopia.
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Taking the pulse of Kandahar
Opinion polls:  'It's pretty clear we have an insurgency here, but what really matters is what people think,' Canadian officer says about a fresh approach to gathering intelligence

Oakland Ross, Toronto Star, 31 Dec 06
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Here's a novel idea: armies don't need to be great big killing machines.  They can also conduct public-opinion polls.  This, it seems, is the modern way.  "It's not pure war-fighting any more," says Lt.-Cmdr. Wynn Polnicky, part of the 2,500-strong Canadian military contingent currently waging war in southern Afghanistan against a shadowy force of fundamentalist Islamic rebels known as the Taliban.  "It's pretty clear we have an insurgency here, but what really matters is what people think. So, just ask them. It's not an earth-shaking idea."  Or maybe, in a way, it is ....

Prime Minister Wishes Canadians a Happy New Year
Prime Minister's web page, 31 Dec 06
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The arrival of the New Year is a time to reflect on the year that was and chart a course for the one to come.

Without a doubt, 2006 was a great year for Canada.

Our economy has been strong.

Our country united.

And Canada took a lead role on the world stage.

As Canadians, we were drawn together...

By the Winter Olympics, when our athletes made us all so proud …

By Canada Day, when we celebrated all that we’ve achieved in this great country …

And by Remembrance Day, when we honoured our veterans and remembered their sacrifices.

For me, the highlight of 2006 was visiting our troops, diplomats and aid workers in Afghanistan.

We should be very proud of them.

Of their courage and commitment.

And their skill and professionalism.

Through their selfless acts, these brave men and women are protecting our security interests, and making a real difference in the lives of the long-suffering Afghan people.

As Canadians, we are very fortunate.

Ours isn’t just a great country.

It’s the greatest in the world.

But make no mistake …

Canada’s best days are still ahead …

Happy New Year Canada...

And may God keep our Land glorious and free.

More News on CAN in AFG here

Commentary:  Casualty of War
Afghanis would suffer most if Canadian mission ended early

Doug Beazley, Sun Media, 31 Dec 06
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We were sitting in a restaurant in Kabul, Fauzia Assifi and I, drinking coffee. In the street outside, concrete barriers marked the spot where a bomber blew himself to paradise two months previous, along with 10 Afghan bystanders.  Assifi's a product of the great Afghan diaspora of the early 1980s -- in her '50s, educated, opinionated, devout enough to cover her hair in public but brave enough to call President Hamid Karzai a weak-kneed kleptocrat in public. She works with Afghan orphans, who number somewhere over a million -- children of a war that never seems to end.  She loathes her government, distrusts the Americans and fears whatever plans Iran and Pakistan have for her country if its current government collapses. But Canadians? What would happen, I asked her, if the Canadians left Afghanistan tomorrow?  "Devastation," she said, setting down her cup and looking me straight in the eyes. "Complete and total. Like nothing you can imagine ....

CENTAF releases airpower summary for Dec. 30
USAF News, 29 Dec 06
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U.S. Central Command Air Forces officials have released the airpower summary for Dec. 30.  In Afghanistan Dec. 29, Royal Air Force GR-7s and U.S. Navy F/A-18Es provided close-air support for International Security Assistance Force troops in contact with Taliban extremists near Now Zad. The GR-7s expended general-purpose 500-pound bombs on enemy positions.  Navy F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Fs provided close-air support to ISAF troops in contact with enemy forces near Lashkar Gah.  A B-1B Lancer and Navy F/A-18Es provided close-air support for ISAF troops in contact with Taliban extremists near Kandahar. The B-1B expended a guided bomb unit-38 on an enemy position.  In total, 53 close-air support missions were flown in support of ISAF and Afghan troops, reconstruction activities and route patrols ....

Soldiers resolve to 'make it home safe'
New Year's Eve festivities in Afghanistan

Bill Graveland, Canadian Press, via Canada.com, 31 Dec 06
Article  Link

There was one overwhelming New Year's resolution as Canadian soldiers said goodbye to 2006
here at a festive party in Canada House at Kandahar Airfield.  It had nothing to do with losing
weight, quitting smoking or doing charity work. The message was much closer to home.  "I want
to make it home safe," said Cpl. Jason Barss, 24, of Ottawa. "It was basically my first year of
marriage. I missed my first anniversary and I've got that to look forward to this year. I've got more
than enough time to make up for it when I get back."  Cpl. David Parker, of Barrie, Ont. echoed
the sentiment. In a country where one misstep triggering a landmine can change a life, good health
is a lofty goal ....

Afghans celebrate peaceful Eid
Pajhwok Afghan News, 30 Dec 06
Article Link

Afghans across the country started celebrating the Islamic festival of Eid-ul-Adha on Saturday with
putting on new cloths, offering prayers and visiting relatives.  December 30 was marked in most of
the Muslim countries as the first day of Eid-ul-Adha one of the two holiest the religious festivals of
the year.  An important part of the festival is sacrificing of some animals by rich and well-to-do
Muslims. In Kabul, after crowds of people returned from mosques where they offered Eid Prayer
in the morning, it was the turn of slaughtering sheep, goats or cows as a holy sacrifice to Allah.  It
was a similar festive environment across the country ....

More News on CAN in AFG here

Pak tells US ‘no military operation in Waziristan’
Zee News (IND), 1 Jan 07
Article Link

Pakistan has told the US government that it will hold another round of peace talks with tribal
elders and ulema in Waziristan to overcome militancy in the region, rather than launch an
immediate military operation.  The US had earlier demanded military operations in North
and South Waziristan against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.  US Assistant Secretary
of State Richard Boucher had said that the banned militia had asserted itself in the tribal agency
and established a command and control structure in the region.  ....

Medical assistance in Kariz e Mir
ISAF News release # 2006-415, 31 Dec 06
Article Link

On 29 December, ISAF's Regional Command Capital (RC-C) French medical team, in
co-operation with the local doctor, held a clinic for the people of Kariz e Mir village, Kabul
province.  As the medical team held their clinic, the French Civil-Military Co-operation
(CIMIC) team delivered medicine to the village. The team also donated a sewing machine,
bulks of cloth and material to support the village sewing business. This sewing machine was
given in addition to the four machines delivered a few weeks ago.  The Mallek (village chief)
said that ISAF CIMIC troops visit on a regular basis and he appreciates the support they
bring to his village.

More IEDs discovered in Methar Lam
ISAF News release # 2006-416, 31 Dec 06
Article Link

Yesterday in Methar Lam, Laghman province, the Afghan National Police (ANP) and ISAF
forces safely removed a string of 10 improvised explosive devices (IED) buried in the road
and wired together.  The IEDs were discovered by ANP just a few kilometers away from
where they had confiscated a 30-pound container of ammonium nitrate, a common material
for building explosive, last week.  “This chain of IEDs could have been devastating with a high
likelihood of death or injury to innocent civilians,” said Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, Regional
Command East spokesman. “Once again, Laghman ANP did an excellent job finding these
IEDs, preventing insurgents from attacking Afghan civilians, ANP or ISAF security forces.
ANP and ISAF are credited for saving many lives today.

U.S., Afghan NCOs Exchange Ideas, Strengthen Ties With Pakistani Troops
Tech Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, American Forces Press Service, via Blackanthem.com, 30 Dec 06
Article Link

U.S. and Afghan noncommissioned officers toured the Pakistan Army's Junior Leader Academy
in Shinkiari, Pakistan, Dec. 28 during the second day of an exchange program tour.  Pakistan
officers and NCOs briefed the team on training procedures and processes in an effort to strengthen
the ties between the Afghan National Army and the Pakistan military.  "We came to learn," said Sgt.
Maj. Mahmodi Shamsudine, the command sergeant major of the ANA's 201st Corps, after asking
several questions about the training curriculum and format.  He was one of three Afghan senior NCOs
who traveled to Pakistan hoping to take back information that will help them develop their four-year-old
army ....

Expectations go unfulfilled in Helmand
Pajhwok Afghan News, 24 Dec 06
Article Link

Residents of Helmand have said that NATO-led British forces have not honoured their vows on
reconstruction process in this southern province.  They said the NATO forces pledged as they
arrived in the province that they would launch reconstruction process here. After passing few
months, they said the forces had initiated no constructive work in the region.  Shah Jehan, a
resident of Nawzad district, said: "With arrival of the NATO-led British forces, events went
on against expectations, we hoped the foreign troops will help us, but we saw no assistance
from them, instead their arrival harmed the local people, as civilians received great casualties
in their airstrikes."  A resident of Helmand Toor Jan, who has also grievances against the
NATO-led British forces, said: "If there were no NATO-led British forces, there might be
no bombing, we demanded of the reconstruction process, but instead of rebuilding they
initiated re-destruction process in the region."  Gul Ahmad, a resident of Sapiano area of the
Lashkargah, said the locals did not want to cooperate with the NATO-led British forces as
they were fed up of the foreign troops. He told this news agency: "With arrival of the NATO
in the region, civilians were killed, people were displaced, and Taliban were further
strengthened in presence of the foreign forces." ....

French Spec-Ops going home; fear of "nasty guerilla warfare"?
Carl Robichaud, Afghanistan Watch, 21 Dec 06
Article Link

It may only be 200 troops,  but the move is symbolically huge. The alliance was already
having a hard time increasing it forces to the size the commanders say they need. Then the
Australians announce a draw-down of 200 special forces in September, the French are out,
and nobody has ponied up for the 1,000 + rapid reaction forces that are seen as especially
critical.  Why is France shipping its best troops home? There is, of course, the predictable
claims that they are no longer appropriate for the task at hand or are needed elsewhere
(like Lebanon or Africa) but Francois_gere220 the underlying reason is Paris's skepticism
about ISAF's new role as peacemaker rather than peacekeeper. As François Géré of the
French Institute of Strategic Analysis notes: "There is strong skepticism about the relevance
of NATO in Afghanistan if it is not for stabilization and rebuilding of the country...If it is for
waging nasty guerrilla warfare, there is no appetite in France and, I think, most European
countries." ....

Afgha Plus: Afghanistan: The Gulf between Report and Reality
John Jennings, Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, 1 Jan 07
Article Link

Earlier this month, Afghanistan's 502-delegate loya jirga approved the draft of a new
constitution that concentrates power in the hands of a directly-elected president, with no
prime minister as an alternate source of executive authority and only limited legislative
oversight. In light of the country's multi-ethnic makeup and long history of tyranny, such
weak checks on the presidency would appear to be utterly inappropriate. On January 20,
however, the New York Times editorialized: "Debates about . . . the division of powers
between the central and provincial governments seem secondary when people are afraid
to sow their fields or transport their crops to market."[1]  That the New York Times
editorial desk should so readily dismiss concerns about civil and political rights is odd.
But even more striking, the sentence's final clause is demonstrably false. Afghanistan's
largely agricultural economy could not have grown by 30% during the last year, as the
IMF recently reported, if most farmers were afraid to sow their fields or transport their
crops to market.[2] ....

Child Kidnap Case Highlights Afghan Warlord Power
Kunduz residents say human rights count for little after a young girl was allegedly kidnapped for the prize of a fighting dog.

Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi, Afghan Recovery Report, Institute for War & Peace Reporting, ARR No. 238, 20 Dec 06
Article Link

“The girl who was exchanged for a dog” has become a sensation around the world,
sparking outrage in human rights circles. But the canine connection is a minor part of
the story, a curiosity that served as a hook to bring the case to public attention.  It
appears that 11-year-old Sanubar and her mother may have been the victims of a
tradition where females are regarded as chattels, and of a climate of instability and
weak central government in which armed men behave like local sovereigns, immune
to punishment.  The case has been muddled by mutual accusations and denials. What
is clear is that Sanubar disappeared after being taken from her home by force in
August.  “Armed men broke into my house at midnight and took my daughter,”
said Sanubar’s mother, Gulshah, 50. “They cut me with a knife. I have filed
complaints with the attorney general and with the governor, but nobody is
helping me.” .....

Nato will be fighting the Taliban for years
Sunday Telegraph, Dec. 31

Nato forces will have to remain in Afghanistan for years if they are to defeat the Taliban, one of the coalition's top generals in the country has warned.

Brig Gen Tim Grant, the commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan [emphasis added], said that it would take time to win over the people living in the Taliban's former heartlands in the south of the country.

And he renewed the call from military commanders in Afghanistan for more troops to be sent, warning that he did not have enough soldiers to hold the ground that they captured during military operations.

Brig Gen Grant spoke to The Sunday Telegraph after the launch of Operation Falcon's Summit, a new campaign to force the Taliban out of Kandahar province.

"Nato can control security and we are making progress, and we will see the Taliban brought to an end. But we were not talking about days and weeks, we are talking about months and years," he said. "It will take time to gain the trust and cooperation of the village elders while sending a strong message to the Taliban that we will fight them."

His remarks suggested a greater degree of caution than Tony Blair displayed at a Nato conference in Riga, last month, when he surprised some of his fellow leaders with his assertion that Afghanistan "is winnable and indeed we are winning".

The problems facing Nato have become clear over the past few months as Taliban fighters, driven out of the Pashmul area of Kandahar by Operation Medusa, have moved back in. Brig Gen Grant said Nato would continue to struggle to subdue the Taliban unless more troops were made available to commanders on the ground.

"Kandahar is a big province. It is the home of the Taliban and there are certain areas that have been key to its control, but we don't have the ability to project forces to the other areas of the province. The Taliban has more freedom of movement than we would like," he said.

Many senior Nato officers have been frustrated at the refusal of countries such as Germany and France to allow their troops to take part in the fighting in the south of the country, and Brig Gen Grant said that coalition forces were having to rely on the support of the Afghan national army and the police.

"We don't have enough troops to hold the ground without their help," he said.

He said he needed a mobile infantry battalion for Kandahar or another battalion of Afghan troops if he was to have a chance of success in Kandahar.

Nato is also facing the dilemma of how to accommodate the Afghan government's policy of opium poppy eradication.

Brig Gen Grant warned of the danger of taking away the farmers' livelihood without offering an alternative.

"There are men who are ostensibly fighting for the Taliban but are in some measures there because it is a job," he said.

"They are being paid. Unemployment is rampant and we need to develop alternative methods of income. People are trying to make enough money to support their families."

What the 'Afghan Street' thinks, shared under the Fair Dealings Provisions of the Copyright Act RSC.
My emboldening added for emphasis.
Ellipses indicate abridgement.


EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE AFTER 7 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 7, 2006

Strife Erodes Afghan Optimism
Five Years After the Taliban’s Fall

Link to Article

Five years after the fall of the Taliban, public optimism has declined sharply across Afghanistan, pushed by a host of fresh difficulties: Worsening security, rising concerns about a resurgent Taliban, troubled development efforts, widespread perceptions of corruption and reduced faith in the government’s effectiveness in facing these challenges.

The U.S.-led invasion remains highly popular, the Taliban intensely unpopular, and the current Afghan government retains broad support. Yet this extensive ABC News/BBC World Service survey makes clear the country’s profound problems – including renewed Taliban activities five years after the fall of their last redoubt, Kandahar, on Dec. 7, 2001:

• More than four in 10 Afghans report Taliban violence in their own local area ....

• One in six Afghans say people in their area provide Taliban fighters with food or money – and that jumps to more than a third in the Northwest, nearly half in the country’s Southwest provinces overall, and two-thirds specifically in Helmand and Kandahar.

• Most Afghans, 57 percent, now call the Taliban the single greatest danger to their country, up 16 points from the first ABC News poll in Afghanistan a year ago. Only in the eastern provinces does the Taliban have a rival threat, drug traffickers.


Compared with a year ago, this poll finds deterioration in a range of public perceptions about the country’s condition: a 22-point drop in views that it’s headed in the right direction, a 17-point drop in the belief security has improved since the Taliban was in control and a 13-point drop in personal optimism for the year ahead. Trust in parliament is down by 18 points; approval of President Hamid Karzai, down 15 points.

Some of these ratings, to be fair, have fallen from probably unsustainable levels. Sixty-eight percent approve of Karzai’s work – down from 83 percent last year, but still a level most national leaders would envy. Fifty-nine percent think the parliament is working for the benefit of the Afghan people – down from 77 percent, but still far better than Americans’ ratings of the U.S. Congress.

Others are lower: Positive ratings of the performance of the United States in Afghanistan are down by 11 points, to 57 percent. Provincial governments are rated positively by 52 percent.

Perhaps most troubling in terms of governance, 78 percent of Afghans call official corruption a problem in the area where they live – and 55 percent call it a big problem. One in four report that they or someone they know has had to pay a bribe to receive proper service from the government – and that jumps to four in 10 in the country’s Northwest, where corruption is particularly severe.

Positives remain. Most Afghans say the government and local police alike have a strong presence in their area – few say so of the Taliban – and trust the current authorities, at least somewhat, to provide security. Again likely reflecting the Taliban’s broad unpopularity, big majorities continue to call the U.S.-led invasion a good thing for their country (88 percent), to express a favorable opinion of the United States (74 percent) and to prefer the current Afghan government to Taliban rule (88 percent).

Indeed eight in 10 Afghans support the presence of U.S., British and other international forces on their soil; that compares with five percent support for Taliban fighters and 11 percent for jihadi fighters from other countries. In the South, however, just three in 10 say international forces have a strong presence. And while just a quarter overall say U.S. forces should leave within a year, that is up from 14 percent a year ago.

Fifty-five percent of Afghans still say the country’s going in the right direction, but that’s down sharply from 77 percent last year. Fifty-four percent remain optimistic rather than pessimistic about their future, but that’s down from 67 percent. Hopes for a better future can provide an important element of social stability; their decline is cause for concern.


Shared under the Fair Dealings provisions of the Copyright Act, RSC.
My emboldening added for emphasis

Latest offensive in southern Afghanistan disrupting Taliban: Canadian general
Tue Jan 2, 11:13 AM

Link to Article

By Bill Graveland

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - The latest and much heralded offensive in southern Afghanistan known as Operation Baaz Tuska has met its main goals despite NATO's inability to engage the Taliban in major combat, a top Canadian general said Tuesday.

Launched amid a great hue and cry more than two weeks ago, the offensive sent a powerful combat team of Canadian troops, tanks and armoured vehicles into the Panjwaii district near the village of Howz-e Madad.

Despite intelligence suggesting there were hundreds of Taliban in the area, there has been little contact with insurgent forces and no significant combat.

Still, Brig.-Gen. Tim Grant, the commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said Tuesday that things were going well.

"Although Canadians have not been involved in close combat, at the end of the day, I'm very happy the objectives of Baaz Tsuka have been reached, that is we have disrupted the Taliban," Grant said.

"We have seen significant evidence that low-level Taliban have simply put down their weapons and run away," he said.

One of the goals of the offensive has been to convince so-called Tier-two Taliban - those that NATO claims fight simply for the relatively good pay being offered by the rebels - to disarm and go back to their villages. That would leave the ideologically committed hardliners, known as Tier-one, on their own.

Grant suggested that the number of hardliners was "in the dozens as opposed to the hundreds," and explained the lack of contact by saying many may have returned to Pakistan.

However, he quickly quashed any notion that the offensive was over or that the Taliban had been defeated.

"There are still hardliners out there," Grant said. "There is no doubt and the operation is not yet over. We will continue to root them out and either capture or kill them."

Grant claimed NATO air strikes had killed a number of senior Taliban commanders, but refused to be pinned down on how many.

"We are not into body counts. In my mind the success is not the number of Taliban that have been killed but the effect we've had on separating the Tier-one from the Tier-two and disrupting the command and control of the Taliban in this part of the province," Grant said.

NATO forces have been securing areas since the launch of the offensive and then installing either Afghan National Police or Afghan National Auxiliary Police.

Eight hundred of the auxiliary officers have now been deployed in Kandahar province said a NATO spokesman.

"At the end of the day there will be 1,300 but so far 800 have been trained," said Maj. Rob Duda, 42, of Windsor, Ont., who is overseeing the training and deployment of the officers.

"The intent for Baaz Tsuka is to transition to a more stable environment," Duda said. "To establish . . . security and allow . . . development to start happening."

"Our soldiers, . . . have gone out and done that clearing out of the Taliban. As they continue to do that, there is certainly going to be more fighting," he said.

An additional 85 members of the auxiliary police have just graduated after receiving two weeks of training and were being deployed in the Panjwaii district, he said.

"They learn some of the stuff you would expect policemen to get, training on the Afghan constitution and the rules of law," Duda said.

"There's also some stuff we wouldn't expect policemen back home to get - basically survival training - very basic military skills training like tactical movement," he added.

The installation of ANAP forces is already working said Grant, who noted many women and children are returning to villages secured by NATO troops.

"Many of the lower-level Taliban realize that NATO is here and that we have really convinced them through our operation that this is not a wise lifestyle they've chosen," Grant said.

"If they have put down their weapons and become part of Afghan society that's a good thing."

Even with Afghan forces providing security and receiving the powerful backing of coalition troops, Grant said he realizes that the Taliban are not going to go away.

"The Taliban have not given up and they will continue to use this area, which has been their traditional home, to continue to conduct operations both here and (in) other parts of the province," he said.

"But their ability to do so has been reduced dramatically," he said.