There’s a new Afghanistan war plan. Last fall, NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal rolled out more restrictive rules of engagement, heralding a “population-centric” approach to the war. U.S. President Barack Obama announced more U.S. troops. While U.S.-led forces in eastern Afghanistan doubled their efforts to prop up faltering local governance, troops in the south identified Taliban strongholds in Marjah and Kandahar and went on the offensive. “Has the U.S. broken the Taliban’s momentum?” reporter Nathan Hodge asked. Maybe. But there are new risks, too: the Dutch might pull out of a key southern province, and Afghan national leadership remains weak. The war might be going our way, for once, but it’s far from over. David Axe and Greg Scott head to “The ‘Stan” to see for themselves.
by DAVID AXE
To NATO, Afghanistan’s Parwan province is a backwater. Which is ironic, for it lies just north of Kabul, butts up against NATO’s main logistical hub at Bagram and is overwhelmingly pro-Western. If NATO truly is pursuing a “clear, hold and build” strategy, Parwan is already cleared and held, and is ready for building.
But the U.S. Army battalion task force assigned to province doesn’t have the resources to do anything but hold — and even that can be a challenge. Lieutenant Colonel Chris Eubank, 40, is a signals officer commanding a 2,000-strong task force cobbled together from the 82nd Airborne’s special troops battalion, some support units and a large division-level command post. Task Force Gladius has just 300 trigger-pullers to patrol a province the size of Rhode Island.
Parwan is a study in unmet potential. “Because it’s so close to Kabul, it has more educated people than there are out west,” Eubank said. But work is scarce, and despite funneling more than $140 million into local projects, NATO is just beginning to get serious about rebuilding the Parwan economy. The province’s first Provincial Reconstruction Team, 100 people strong, arrived last week. Before that, Eubank had to make do with a makeshift PRT comprising just eight people.
“The people here like us,” Eubank said, and several days of patrolling with the task force seems to confirm that. But the goodwill balances on NATO’s attention to the province. At the Bagram shura on Wednesday, local elders, pictured, grew impatient with what they saw as unnecessary delays in putting the community’s men to work. Neglect Parwan too long, and it might turn.
Risk notwithstanding, Parwan should be one of the first provinces to fully transfer to Afghan military control. Eubank said the Transfer of Lead Responsibility could take place in a year’s time.
Axeghanistan ‘10: Parwan Patrol Video
Axeghanistan ‘10: Air Bridge Video
Axeghanistan ‘10: Easier by the Day
Axeghanistan ‘10: Moon Shot
Axeghanistan ‘10: Down Side of the Surge
Axeghanistan ‘10: “Now You Know More than You Did Five Minutes Ago”