Afghan Violence Reflects Afghan Troops' Progress, Taliban Frustration
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2006 The recent surge in violence in southern Afghanistan reflects the fact that Afghan security forces are extending their reach and that the Taliban, in desperation, are trying to stop them, a senior military official told Pentagon reporters today.
Army Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, deputy director of regional operations for the Joint Staff, called the "significant fighting," particularly in the south, a sign that the Taliban wants to stop "the expansion and the filtering of the reach of the Afghan national government."
"My suspicion is that the Taliban ... recognize that if they don't try to do something about that now, then they may not have a chance to do something about it later," Ham said.
"One of the reasons I believe that there are more incidents in the south is that the Afghan forces are going more places," he said. "They are going places where they didn't go before and certainly meeting some resistance."
Meanwhile, more NATO nations are contributing forces to Regional Command South, increasing the coalition presence there, Ham said. "And I think the Taliban see that to say if they don't do something to try to disrupt that transition to NATO control, then they may lose the opportunity to do that for awhile."
Three significant engagements over the past several days, including one yesterday in the Kandahar region that left up to 80 Taliban members dead, are part of Operation Mountain Lion.
Members of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan are on the ground today assessing the strike and looking into reports of non-combatant casualties, which Ham said the coalition takes "very, very seriously" and investigates "to the fullest."
"Having said that, it's also important to note that the Taliban knows that, and it's not unusual at all to see them operate in and among noncombatants, knowing the great measures we take to try to protect noncombatants," he said.
Operation Mountain Lion, which began in mid-April, has made solid strides toward disrupting insurgent activities, denying them sanctuary, and preventing their ability to restock. The ultimate goal is to extend the reach of the Afghan government so it can serve the Afghan people.
The offensive, which Ham said has now moved into the "stability and reconstruction phase," is designed to extend the reach of the Afghan security forces and, ultimately, the Afghan government.
Since the operation began with air and ground assaults in the Pech River Valley, an area notorious for terrorist activity, U.S. and Afghan security forces have conducted more than 650 patrols and discovered 12 major weapons and ammunition caches, Ham reported. He said it's "very good news" that many of those discoveries resulted from tips by local Afghans.
In addition, coalition forces met with local and district leaders throughout the region to explain the operations' goal and solicit their support for the Afghan security forces.
Coalition medical teams treated more than 8,000 Afghan men, women and children while operating in their districts and distributed more than 13,000 radios so people who never had them before can "receive news and stay connected with their central government," Ham said.