Afghanistan’s Race Against Time
Image Credit: U.S. Army

Afghanistan’s Race Against Time

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Ali Mohamed has a surprise for his U.S. Army advisers. An explosive one. It’s right here in his backpack.

It’s late January in Marzak, a remote town in this rugged, sparsely-populated province in Afghanistan's extreme east, along the border with Pakistan. Mohamed is the newly-minted platoon leader for Marzak’s first and only Afghan Local Police force, a militia-style security outfit trained by U.S. troops and paid and equipped by the Afghan Interior Ministry. 

No, Mohamed isn’t one of the approximately 45 Afghan police, soldiers and airmen who have turned on their U.S. trainers over the years, killing 70 Americans. Rather, he’s an important ally in a critical Afghan village at an important late stage of the Afghanistan war. In many ways, Mohamed represents Afghanistan’s future as the U.S.-led NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) eyes the exit after 10 years of bloody fighting.

The Army’s 172nd Infantry Brigade has identified Marzak as a vital node in a Taliban supply route through Paktika’s mountain passes. For several years now, U.S. forces deployed to Paktika have concentrated on identifying and shutting down Taliban footpaths.

Marzak is the key to controlling this particular path. In early January, an American platoon flew into the impoverished, agricultural village and began the hard work of recruiting and training a 100-strong local police unit from the local military-age, male population. The first 40 of the new militiamen completed their training on January 23. The Americans tapped the quiet, diminutive Mohamed to lead them.

And just a few days later, Mohamed, acting on a tip from one of his neighbors, goes stalking off into the snow-coated mountains, unannounced, to dig up a Taliban weapons cache containing a 105-millimeter artillery shell (likely meant as bomb component) and more than 100 rounds of 12.7-millimeter machine-gun ammunition.

Mohamed hauls the weapons back to Marzak and proudly presents them to his American trainers. They pat him on the back and gently recommend that, maybe next time, he should inform his chain of command of what he’s up to. All the same, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Flynn is proud. “This is a new beginning for Marzak,” he says. 

But in Afghanistan, it’s a bit late for new beginnings. Indeed, Mohamed is a human manifestation of the coalition’s end-game. As a local cop interdicting Taliban weaponry, he represents the U.S. and ISAF’s last-ditch efforts to stabilize Afghanistan ahead of the planned departure of foreign troops.  

The Clock is Ticking

Today, some 124 months after the first contingent of U.S. Marines riding in CH-53E heavy lift helicopters infiltrated the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, the American-led international intervention in Afghanistan has an expiration date.

“Hopefully, by the mid to latter part of 2013, we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said during a visit with European military leaders in Brussels.

President Barack Obama had previously pledged to withdraw all regular U.S. combat troops – currently 90,000 strong – from Afghanistan no later than the end of 2014. At least 20,000 Americans will quit the country by the end of 2012, the Pentagon says.

Some Special Forces are slated to remain behind as advisers, potentially for years. But they might number only a few thousand.

Without U.S. combat forces and, just as importantly, America’s logistical expertise, the roughly 40 other ISAF nations, together providing some 60,000 troops, can’t hope to continue fighting – nor is there any indication they want to. France and Germany, two of the biggest force-providers outside the U.S., are already beginning their pull-outs. 

Comments
4

[...] face the possibility of the resurgence of extremists in Afghanistan and its political collapse. What happens in Afghanistan is fundamentally uncertain given widespread corruption in its government, the Taliban’s enduring commitment, and growing [...]

Matt
February 28, 2012 at 12:24

I said it before and I will say it again we handover the LDI’s to the Afghan Special forces, continuation of the strategy. And the LDI’s come under the control of the Defense Ministry. I really do not see any problem here with the LDI’s.

harry
February 27, 2012 at 02:14

At least the atrocities will be inflicted by their own people and not by the foreigners.

Matt
February 27, 2012 at 00:13

NATO is itching to leave Afghanistan and despite the efforts of some Afghani’s to save their country, as soon as western forces pull out the country will go back to hell. I’m not being a pessimist its just a fact that it will be overrun with radicals who will take the country back to the 7th Century, again.

Talk about a bad idea.

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