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Security Conditions Improving in Southern Afghanistan

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

QALAT, Afghanistan, April 13, 2005 – The security situation in the southern region of Afghanistan has improved considerably over the past year, local commanders told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, head of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, talks to Combined Task Force Bronco members in Qalat, Afghanistan, April 13. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

During a briefing at the Qalat provincial reconstruction team's dining facility, roughly 30 miles from the Pakistani border, Army Col. Richard Pedersen told Rumsfeld progress continues in the region.

Pedersen explained that the mission of his unit, Combined Task Force Bronco, is to conduct counterinsurgency operations in Regional Command South.

Much improvement in the southeastern part of the country can be attributed to concerted efforts among coalition and Iraqi forces to improve conditions as construction progresses along the Ring Road, between Kabul, Kandahar and Herat.

The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing $21 million to complete the road. Construction is being carried out by U.S. Army National Guard engineers and is about one-third complete.

Pedersen briefed Rumsfeld on plans for standing up, training and deploying Afghan National Army units throughout the region. He said he's worked closely with the local ANA corps commander to "draft a vision of how to deploy his corps as they come online."

Pedersen said his unit has also been mentoring Afghan National Police in the region and helping them increase their presence along the Ring Road.

Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said experience and proficiency vary greatly among the Iraqi police. "Right now the police range from pretty good to extraordinarily bad," Barno said.

A fledgling Afghan highway patrol is making inroads in security as well, Pedersen said. The force has begun setting up checkpoints along the Ring Road and has made some drug busts.

Afghanistan's south has been a stronghold of Taliban holdouts. Pedersen told Rumsfeld there are still areas of "enemy sanctuary" in the region. He described enemy sanctuary as areas where the enemy "still has a certain amount of freedom of movement."

Coalition forces in the area still engage Taliban fighters. Three days before Rumsfeld's visit, two Taliban members on a motorcycle shot and killed an Afghan National Police officer on a joint patrol with American soldiers, said Army Lt. Col. Mark Stammer, battalion commander of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. ANP and coalition forces later caught the drive-by shooters, he said.

Part of the coalition's strategy for decreasing Taliban influence in these areas is to move firebases out into the communities. U.S. Army Special Forces A teams operating out of these firebases are "changing the conditions" in Taliban strongholds, Pedersen said. Several of these SF soldiers, many sporting full beards and relatively long hair, attended today's briefing.

In time, coalition officials hope to hand over these firebases to Afghan National Army forces, but that won't mean the coalition mission will be finished. "Independence doesn't mean that they don't still need help," Pedersen said.

The Afghan government is also expanding its reach and influence farther and farther outside the capital, Kabul. Lt. Col. Lee Knight, commander of the Qalat PRT, said Karzai is treated like a rock star when he visits the area.

"The government is reaching out," Knight said. "I'm not here to tell you everything's perfect, but it is getting better."

Pedersen's unit, CTF Bronco is composed predominantly of soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, deployed from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The soldiers of the 25th have mostly completed their one-year tours to Afghanistan and are headed home, as soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade deploy here from Vicenza, Italy, to replace them.

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