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| Ander Nieuws week 14 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |
 
 
 
Afghan hearts and minds refuse to be won

 
Daily Telegraph
27 March 2007
By Damien McElroy in Ghowrak, Kandahar
 
Troops fighting in Afghanistan are meeting resistance not only from the Taliban, but from the people they are there to support.
 
In the dustbowl settlement of Ghowrak in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, a senior Allied delegation, lead by a British colonel, flies in on a hearts-and-minds mission to halt the leaching of support for the Allied mission.
 
"I'd say that was an artillery shell," said Col Simon Marr, of the 1st Bn Fusiliers, as the distinctive crump of high explosives reverberated across the scorched plateau.
 
It was good preparation for the verbal attack his delegation was to endure.
 
"You do not need to be here in town," said Ghowrak's headman, Haji Pasha. "With your soldiers standing looking over us, watching our women and driving their vehicles destroying our land. Go into the hills to find the Taliban, don't disturb us."
 
Far from being enticed into repudiating the Taliban, elders lined up to complain about the foreign troops in their midst and, more bitterly, the lack of assistance from the Afghan government.
 
"Why are we not with you?" asks another villager rhetorically. "Why are we not thanking you for our security? Why should we do anything at at all for our government when it does nothing to help us?
 
"Please do something for us but do it in Kandahar to make our government give to us not to themselves."
 
A combination of patient listening and promises of aid is a well-tried method across conflict zones to win the backing of the locals. But it is a measure of the Taliban's insidious strength to see the combat operation and the community charm offensive in the same walled compound.
 
Ghowrak is a strategic outpost on the Hashingar Pass, a Taliban corridor to Helmand province, where British forces are caught in a fierce ground war with the resurgent movement. Fighters crossing smuggling routes travel unchallenged through Kandahar to strongholds from Helmand to Pakistan.
 
Without troops on the ground, the military cannot hope to disrupt the Taliban's supply lines. In early March, America's 82nd Airborne paratroops and the Afghan army commandeered Ghowrak's district offices as a base for patrols.
 
The political adviser to the mission, Ambassador Gulus Schelema, attempted to persuade the elders that the military would not inflict damage to their livelihoods by destroying opium crops.
 
He said: "I want to assure you that we will not attack the poppy; that we only seek to find a better crop for you. All across the world people are in a better situation than you and they do not grow poppy. You don't have to either."
 
But for the soldiers the crops are the least of their worries.
 
"Those are poppy fields right there," muttered one US paratrooper on guard. "Do I care? I care about Taliban scouts."
 
Flushing out Taliban and holding the terrain in the Pashtun heartland is proving immeasurably difficult for Nato. In Kandahar, the Canadian army has had to scale back its ambitious plans.
 
Establishing a permanent presence 120 miles north of the city was a point of pride for Nato, evidence that the coalition could drive into the militant heartland.
 
But it proved too dangerous to run supplies to the troops there. The coalition's "assets" have been shifted to corridors around the provincial capital. The omens for Ghowrak are equally ominous.
 
Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited
 
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| Ander Nieuws week 14 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |