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Terrorists Between Rock, Hard Place in Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 16, 2004 – The Pakistani offensive on their side of the Afghan border is having a "disruptive effect" on terrorist operations in Afghanistan, said the commander of the Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan, today.

The combination of Pakistani and American operations on their respective sides of the border is literally putting terrorists between a rock and a hard place, officials said.

Pakistan is making good progress against Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists who were using the tribal lands to seek refuge from the coalition efforts in Afghanistan, said Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, the commander in Afghanistan. Barno spoke to reporters traveling with Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers. Myers is assessing the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pakistan has moved as many as 45,000 troops into the area. In March, the Pakistanis fought a significant battle against terrorist holdouts in the region. With American forces massed on the other side of the border, this gives the terrorists nowhere to run or hide. In fact, enemy forces are not coming across the border, "because they know we are going to hammer them," Barno said.

U.S. forces are also getting more effective in Afghanistan, the general said. U.S. forces switched to an "area ownership strategy." Essentially, a unit has an area and remains there. The soldiers or Marines become closely knitted into the area's fabric, Barno said. They know the people, they meet with the elders, they assess the needs of the village, they provide the reconstruction aid and so on, he added.

They can tell if something is out of the ordinary in the village. And villagers feel comfortable visiting them. Barno said it has become an "intelligence bonanza" for the units. "We get a huge amount of walk-in intelligence as well as warnings against things the terrorists may be doing," he said.

The area ownership program helps build support for the central government via the aid that units can provide. Barno said that the battalion and brigade commanders have more than $40 million to fund deserving projects. "It may not sound like a lot when you are talking about the whole Defense Department budget, but that is huge here," said an official on background.

The coalition in Afghanistan remains focused on killing or capturing terrorists. Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, Mullah Omar and Gullbaden Hekmatyar remain focuses of manhunts through the area. Officials said al Qaeda is based primarily in the eastern part of the country, with Taliban remnants in the south and Hekmatyar followers in the north.

Coalition service members are searching in some of the roughest terrain on Earth for these terrorists. Still, Barno said, the coalition will kill or capture these terrorists and bring them to justice.

Also changing is the number and size of the provisional reconstruction teams. The teams, still the bedrock of the engagement policy in Afghanistan, will also support new regional development zones. The zones will handle larger, more expensive and more extensive projects, an official said. Endeavors such as large water projects, erosion control and reforestation, highways and roads will come under the zones.

Officials emphasize that PRTs will not go away, but in fact will grow. There are currently 12 teams spread around the country. Officials want eight more. The United States, Britain, New Zealand and Germany sponsor the teams.

Related Article: Poignant Reminder at the American Embassy in Kabul

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