FORWARD OPERATING BASE RAMROD, Afghanistan - After nine years of fighting in Afghanistan, Afghan National Army soldiers, supported by U.S. forces, have established a firm position in several areas of what is being called the Taliban's last stronghold, the horn of Panjwa'i, an area southwest of the Arghandab River.

Zangabad, an area on the eastern side of the horn, is one of the areas being cleared of insurgents, and Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), nicknamed Leader Rakkasans, and their ANA partners have made their presence felt there over the past month.

"It seems like most of the Taliban have left the area," said Cpt. Andrew J. Stevens, executive officer for Leader Rakkasan's Company B. "We've had a lot less IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and small arms fire."

The Carlyle, Ill. native said this is an area the Taliban operated in without interference for the past three years. They've used the area to traffic drugs, train insurgents and intimidate locals.

There wasn't a strong resistance when ANA and U.S forces came into the area, said Sgt. 1st Class Eugene P. Stabenow II, acting first sergeant for the company. The focus now is to build trust with the locals and set conditions for the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to gain strength, he said.

"At first they [the Afghan locals] didn't want anything to do with us," said Spc. Raymond Camden, Company B medic and an Ironton, Mo., native. "We slowly started talking to them and showing them that we weren't here to hurt them. Eventually they started coming up to us and talking to us."

Stevens said winning the trust of the locals is important because they are the ones who point out a lot of the IEDs. Afghans want to feel safe and secure as well, so if they trust the U.S., and more importantly the ANA, they'll report any suspicious activity in the area.

The ANA have partnered extremely well with U.S. forces and every task is a combined effort, said Stabenow. They help with logistics, pull security and go on patrols.

The goal is for Afghans to feel comfortable with GIRoA and the Afghan military, said Stevens.

"When Afghans see other Afghans protecting them, it allows them to feel comfortable and just live their lives," said Stevens. "They want the Taliban out and that's what were here to do."

Page last updated Fri December 3rd, 2010 at 21:30