Talk with elder
Army Maj. Bryant Schumacher, the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan Recruiting Assistance team chief, speaks with an elder from Kapisa Province at a recruiting conference, Feb. 16, 2008.

WASHINGTON -- Elders who fled Taliban intimidation in Afghanistan's Kandahar province have started to return home and could be catalysts for lasting stability, the commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan said Oct. 28.

The returning elders might begin to work in support of their district governors through community councils, Maj. Gen. Nick Carter of the British army, commander of Regional Command South, told Pentagon reporters in a video teleconference.

"And with that," he added, "you begin to provide stability that is necessary for an enduring solution."

Kandahar City, the provincial capital and spiritual home of the Taliban, was disorganized before coalition operations began in April, Carter said. The city's 1,500 Afghan police officers were not aligned with the International Security Assistance Force, he explained, and a "mob rule" atmosphere made the city vulnerable to insurgents.

"We've worked extremely hard, first of all, to build the security of the structure, through which five companies of U.S. [military police] are now working in partnership with Afghan uniformed policemen," he explained. At the same time, Carter continued, he and his troops are attempting to develop governance at the municipal and provincial levels.

A security ring that comprises numerous police stations and checkpoints on key routes into and out of the city were designed as bases to protect the population in rural areas, the general said. The design also provides a "filter," Carter said, as insurgents try to move in and out of the city.

Regional Command South also has focused attention on the Pakistan border-crossing point of Wesh-Chaman and on trying to remove mid- and low-level Taliban leaders from the battlefield at night, Carter said.

"So a combination of all of this is coming together now with the third phase," he said, "which is predominantly focused on the districts of Zari and Panjwayi to the west of Kandahar City."

While still a work in progress, Carter said, the picture of Kandahar is encouraging. The number of Afghans who are returning to their communities and their ability to "move freely" on roads in their districts is a measure of success, he added.

But a tough road still lies ahead, Carter said, to get the Afghan people to take on district leadership and to join police and army forces. The people must take responsibility to make decisions, he said, to "underpin what we're doing here."

With winter approaching - enemy activity historically has diminished under the season's harsh conditions - the general warned that the next few months may not be particularly telling.

"I would tell you that you, in Afghanistan, have to be very careful about not measuring progress until you match it to the appropriate season and the appropriate time of year," he said. "And I sense it won't be until June next year that we'll be sure that the advances we've made during the course of the last few months are genuine success."

Page last updated Thu October 28th, 2010 at 19:45