Thursday, April 16, 2009

CF--with Afghans in lead--to "clear and hold" near Kandahar

Trying really to make a difference in the life of some Afghans:
Town by town: A new strategy in Afghanistan
Deh-E-Bagh is Ground Zero for an Afghan-Canadian approach against the Taliban, reports Matthew Fisher.

A town south of Kandahar City is to become the focus of intense attention as part of a new Afghan-Canadian strategy to try to defeat the Taliban insurgency town by town.

The innovative approach is to start in the town of Deh-E-Bagh in Dand district, where the Taliban recently launched a major attack [it should be noted that in July 2007 the area was considered secure]. Afghan-led, it's to involve targeted Canadian aid, technical assistance, and mentoring within a robust security bubble established by Afghan and Canadian forces [official story here].

"We want this to be absolutely tangible to the 800 or 1,000 people in that community," said Brig.-Gen. Jon Vance, who commands Canadian troops in Afghanistan. "We develop the district in governance and (reconstruction and development), and re-establish the social, political and economic fabric of a town in a district, and then another town, and another and another."

Kandahar's governor, Tooryalai Wesa, chose to begin in Deh-E-Bagh after consultations with his government and conferring closely with Canadian officials about making "a commitment to a defined community," Vance said. The pilot project, also discussed with Ken Lewis, Canada's top diplomat in the south, will involve all levels of the Afghan government and Canada's joint military/civilian provincial reconstruction team (PRT), which draws on experts from several federal departments and receives much of its funding through the Canadian International Development Agency.

While Canada's area of military responsibility in Kandahar is to be split in half when a U.S. army Stryker brigade arrives this summer, the Canadian PRT, based in Kandahar City, is to retain primacy for economic development across the entire province.

Many of the initiatives to be started in Deh-E-Bagh are expected to fit within five of Canada's six stated priorities in Afghanistan: mentoring security forces, basic services, humanitarian services, democratic development and political reconciliation.

The sixth priority is border security, but the town is 80 kilometres west of Pakistan.

"We did some analysis to make sure about tribal sensitivities, where the insurgency is, and the doability of it," Vance said. "It is a whole of government joint view that this is the town that meets the criteria."

Individual projects will be determined and prioritized by district leaders and village "malaks," and will employ large numbers of locals.

The Taliban are still hugely unpopular across most of Afghanistan, a recent ABC/BBC poll found, but 64 per cent of those who responded in their traditional stronghold of Kandahar reported some support for the insurgents there, up from 41 per cent last year. If the new strategy succeeds, it will create safe havens where Afghans can thrive without living in fear of militants, thus setting a positive example for other towns.

The Afghan-Canadian initiative bears some resemblance to the "hearts and minds" strategy the U.S. pursued in selected villages and hamlets during the Vietnam War [a bit gratuitous to raise the Vietnam bogey, Mr Fisher]. Where this approach differs significantly is that Afghans will be in charge, and there will be much more civilian involvement

"It is not delivering a bunch of stuff," Vance said. "They (Afghans) are going to be in the lead and work for it [emphasis added]. The level of aspiration is limitless. These are the first steps."

The project, to be expanded over time to include more communities across Kandahar province [emphasis added, is designed to show Afghans what they can do for themselves in a secure environment and to push out the insurgents who threaten the communities and use them as bases of operations.

"It was decided to concentrate on a small community, rather than at the district or provincial level, because "you can pour in things at the provincial and district level, but it does not trickle down to the people as fast (as we would like)," Vance said.

"What needs to be done in a town, who does it and how ... that will be determined over the next month and a half or so. There is a lot of analysis going on. It is a very complex operation.... Timing and the scheme of manoeuvre is still up in the air."


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