Residents take on the Taliban in volatile Panjwai district
First Lt. Thomas Stanley, a platoon leader in 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, speaks with residents of a village near Forward Operating Base Zangabad, Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON — One of the most heavily contested districts in southern Afghanistan’s so-called “Taliban Heartland” is in the midst of throwing off insurgents’ influence, the commander of ISAF Regional Command-South said Wednesday.
Residents of Kandahar province’s volatile Panjwai district began an uprising last month that has succeeded in booting the Taliban out most of the area, Major Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams told reporters at the Pentagon by live video feed from southern Afghanistan.
“This is absolutely the first time we’ve seen this kind of uprising where people have said, ‘Enough is enough,’“ Abrams said. “The people were very tired, and they just wanted [violence] to stop, but they had not chosen a side.”
The mistreatment of a village elder by two young Taliban apparently sparked a choice for some residents, Abrams said. Within minutes of the incident, villagers had called for assistance from local authorities headed by a new district police chief determined to fight the Taliban. The uprising spread, and now insurgents are holding on in only about four villages on the periphery of the district, he said.
Abrams on Wednesday presented a positive overall assessment of the growing readiness of Afghan security forces in RC-South, saying they were able to provide “a life of security and stability” for people in the province.
“The ANSF are on glide path to lead and secure approximately 97 percent of the population in RC-South this summer,” he said.
Abrams said Afghans are becoming increasingly capable in key roles they heavily depend on NATO coalition troops to fill, including aviation and fire support. Afghan local police are providing more effective security, and he said he was hopeful that three-fourths or more of Afghan infantry battalions would be rated as able to operate independently with advisors by fall 2013.
U.S. troop presence in RC-South stands at about 14,000 troops, he said. Growing Afghan confidence should allow for reducing the number of advisory teams attached to every battalion and local police unit – currently numbered at 83, he said. Troops on other assignments will also be pulled out, Abrams said, but units that handle transportation and logistics will be maintained in order to conduct the coming drawdown.
President Barack Obama in February ordered that 34,000 of 68,000 troops that remain in Afghanistan be withdrawn by February 2014. The remainder will leave after Afghan national elections next year.