Fledgling Afghan Army Joins Battle

November 27th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Fledgling Afghan Army Joins Battle

Houston Chronicle
November 27, 2006
35,000 soldiers are being trained to take over for Western forces
By Fisnik Abrashi, Associated Press
PANJWAYI, AFGHANISTAN Bandoliers draped over their chests and rocket-propelled grenades slung on their backs, Afghan soldiers venture slowly out of their base of mud huts and green tents for a patrol with Canadian troops through this restive southern town.
Such operations are at the heart of efforts by the United States and NATO to bolster Afghanistan's security forces and open the way for the departure of Western troops.
"They are our exit strategy," said Maj. Francoise Bisillon, part of the Canadian team that lives with, trains and mentors Afghan soldiers in Panjwayi.
Their short morning patrol might not seem like dangerous work, but the area is NATO's front line against Taliban militants. Clashes erupt in nearby fields almost every day.
This year alone, 34 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Kandahar province, most of them in insurgent attacks near the Argandab River, a fertile valley of orchards and vineyards that is a green oasis in an expanse of brown desert and barren mountains.
Close-quarter fighting over the summer in the province's Panjwayi, Pashmul and Zhari areas killed hundreds of militants, but dozens of civilians also died deaths that have soured relations between locals and Western troops.
Few children wave as the patrol passes, and local men sipping tea in front of shops offer only a steely gaze.
Despite the summer offensive designed to root out the Taliban, militants remain active in this area, firing rockets and mortars one minute and mingling with civilians the next.
Relying on local soldiers who know the terrain and can tell a farmer from a militant is vital to NATO's approach in the south: restoring security while kick-starting long-promised economic development in hopes of bolstering loyalty for Afghanistan's government.
"They are good fighters and they know the ground," Warrant Officer Daniel Parenteau, 38, said of the Afghan soldiers.
The Afghan troops deployed here with the Canadians have fighting experience but are still a young force and can't yet be trusted with some of the more sophisticated weapons, their Western mentors say. The Afghans also lack experience in planning and logistics.
More than 35,000 Afghan soldiers are working around the country alongside Western troops who "lead them from behind," Bisillon said.

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