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An Afghan army soldier rushes children to a waiting helicopter on June 23 in Lagham Province, Afghanistan. More than 119 people were stranded by the rising flood waters of the Indus River in the province. Soldiers from the Afghan army, as well as coalition troops and aid agencies worked together for the rescue operation when a dam upstream broke.

An Afghan army soldier rushes children to a waiting helicopter on June 23 in Lagham Province, Afghanistan. More than 119 people were stranded by the rising flood waters of the Indus River in the province. Soldiers from the Afghan army, as well as coalition troops and aid agencies worked together for the rescue operation when a dam upstream broke. (Ken Denny / U.S. Army)

Despite a recent spate of attacks on U.S. forces, Afghanistan is not degenerating into an Iraq-like atmosphere, according to the deputy commander of Combined/Joint Task Force-76.

“I don’t think it’s becoming more like Iraq at all,” Brig. Gen. James Champion said in a phone interview Monday morning.

“The situations are not the same. We are fighting a different kind of enemy.”

But there are similarities, he acknowledged.

Foreign fighters in the countries are bent on hitting U.S. and local government forces hard, but Champion said the recent surge in fighting could be attributed more to American aggressiveness than anything al-Qaida is doing.

When the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) from Vicenza, Italy, took over the mission in March, “we certainly had a plan to go more in areas that had not been visited by coalition forces for a while,” he said.

“We’ve got a lot of [troops] here with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “All of us know that the bad guys go to places that we are not.”

So American forces, along with Afghan police and army counterparts, have launched a series of operations in areas where U.S. presence has been minimal or nonexistent.

New forward operating bases have been set up, and American troops have generally spread out away from established bases, he said.

“The business we’re in is not one to sit back and wait for the enemy to come to us,” Champion said.

Since SETAF took over from the 25th Infantry Division, 33 U.S. servicemembers have died in Afghanistan.

Fifteen of those were killed in a CH-47 helicopter crash and eight more were killed by roadside bombs.

The number of those seriously wounded was unavailable.

Many recent conflicts involve U.S. or local government forces being ambushed.

The Americans return fire, call in air support and then search for survivors, he said.

“I think we’re initiating the overwhelming majority of the actions,” Champion said.

“Whoever fires the first shot …. that’s irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. (The enemy) would not be firing the first shots if we weren’t in the area looking for them.”

The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan allows small groups to launch ambushes and then disappear.

The Russians discovered that in the 1980s.

But U.S. military officials maintain that they, unlike the Russians, have the support of the majority of the people.

They say many recent raids and discoveries of arms caches have come after tips from locals.

In fact, Champion and others say that they expect the fighting to continue and possibly increase before the provincial and parliamentary elections Sept. 18.

He said anti-coalition forces would suffer “another blow” with a successful election.

“Will they stop the day after the elections and quit fighting?” Champion said. “I don’t think so.”

But by that time, he expects coalition forces will have “contained, killed or captured” more of those they’re fighting, he said.

And hundreds of more Afghan police and servicemembers — praised by U.S. commanders in their work in several recent operations — will be working around the country.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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