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Afghan and coalition forces conducted a major clearing operation Jan. 10 in the Arghandab river valley near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The objective of Operation Fazilat was to attack the Taliban's improvised explosive device capabilities and establish a permanent coalition presence in a section of the valley. The mission followed up on the success of Operation Oaqab, which recently cleared other parts of the Arghandab near the village of Charbagh.
About a battalion-sized force including companies of 3rd Kandak, 1st Brigade, 205th Corps of the Afghan National Army, elements of the Afghan National Police, U.S. Paratroopers from 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, and Canadian mentor teams from the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry cleared an area that included the villages of Jelaran and Rajan Qala.
Afghan National Security Forces and coalition troops discovered hundreds of pounds of ordnance, including improvised explosive devices, anti-personnel mines and homemade explosives. Soldiers also found a "night letter" the Taliban had delivered to terrorize the locals.
First Sgt. Amonullah of 2nd Company, 3rd Kandak led a group of Soldiers from his unit during the operation. Amonullah said that his Soldiers' performance is building confidence in the ANA.
"It's impressive for my Soldiers to find an IED," Amonulluh said. "Not just for themselves, but for everyone else who sees, including the locals."
Aside from reducing the threat of IEDs, the operation also aimed to put coalition forces in the "hold phase" of counter insurgency operations in the Arghandab district. Afghan and coalition troops took advantage of the winter season to attack the network of prepositioned IEDs and stores of explosives while the majority of fighters were gone and could not over watch their IEDs or defend their caches.
The commanders on both sides of the alliance hope that attacking the enemy in areas where they previously felt secure and diminishing their stockpiles will throw them off balance when the fighting season begins again.
"In summertime the enemy will try as much as possible to attack us," said 1st Lt. Mohammed Qasem Khan, executive officer of 2nd Co., 3rd. Kandak. "We know what they will do and we will be prepared with a plan against them. We're always changing our plans and our tactics to keep ahead of them ... everyone knows that day by day the enemy is getting weaker."
Situated on the outskirts of Kandahar, the Arghandab river valley is one of Afghanistan's most fertile agricultural areas and accounts for half of the pomegranates grown in the country. Because of its location, abundant food, thick foliage cover and dense cultivation the valley served as an ideal location for mujahedeen trying to gain influence in Kandahar city during their war with the Soviet Union from 1979 to 1989, said Capt. Claude Lambert, commander of Company D, 2-508 PIR.
Arghandab was also the scene of intense combat during the summer of 2009 when elements of a U.S. Stryker infantry unit, 1st Battalion, 17th Cavalry Regiment and 3rd Kandak arrived in the area. The 3rd Kandak has played a pivotal role in improving security in the area since their arrival last year.
When 2nd company showed up in the district, there were so few ANP in their area that the police couldn't resist the Taliban, Amonullah said. Now 2nd Co. has patrols in every village, although they are sometimes frustrated by the Taliban bullying the people, Amonallah said.
"The people are scared of the enemy," Amonulluh said. "They are very happy to see us, but afterwards the enemy comes back and asks who spoke with us and try to intimidate them."
Coalition forces never had enough troops to maintain a constant presence and hold the valley. Lambert should know. In a spot where the Strykers used to set up temporary observation points, Lambert's company is building a permanent combat outpost that was a corner of an empty park a week ago. The arrival of a full battalion of Airborne infantry to replaced the overstretched Strykers has changed the situation in the area.
"Literally in Arghandab there has been no tactical infrastructure until now," Lambert said. "We're sending a message to the people that we're here to stay and we're here to to build a better life for them and their children. We're also building confidence in the ANSF that coalition forces will be there to support them so that they can provide law and order."
The paratroopers are bringing their expertise in dismounted operations and their experience mentoring ANSF to Arghandab. D Co. switched mid-tour from acting as combat advisors for ANP along Highway 1 to partnering with ANP to bring security to Arghandab.
"[The Taliban] essentially had freedom of maneuver in terms of the limited area where vehicles can go," Lambert said. "But that's what suits us great as light infantry, Airborne Paratroopers ... I might have one squad out the Taliban might be watching, but he doesn't know if I have two or three others, or where they are."
Ultimately, success in the Arghandab will depend upon coalition forces, ANSF and the local people cooperating to a common enemy, Amonullah said. Afghan and coalition Soldiers will have to gain the trust of the people.
"I saw several incidents where locals people lost a father, a mother or a brother to an IED," Amonullah said. "They must solve our problem, so we that can solve their problem."