Check­points key to up­com­ing U.S.-Afghan of­fen­sive

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NA­TION - By Dion Nis­senbaum

KAN­DA­HAR, Afghanistan — When the U.S. and Afghan mil­i­taries be­gin their lon­gawaited Kan­da­har op­er­a­tion as early as this week­end, the key to its suc­cess might lie in some ob­scure moun­tain roads that con­nect the dusty heart­land of the Tal­iban in­sur­gency with a fer­tile val­ley nearby.

One is the “Ant Pass,” a rocky pas­sage through which Tal­iban fight­ers have shut­tled in and out of Kan­da­har, Afghanistan’s sec­ond-largest city, to at­tack U.S. con­voys, as­sas­si­nate Afghan of­fi­cials, plant road­side bombs and tar­get in­ter­na­tional aid of­fices.

Af­ter a se­ries of frus­trat­ing de­lays, U.S. and Afghan forces aim to trans­form this nar­row gate­way into a cru­cial choke point on the eve of the ini­tial show­down in the Arghandab Val­ley, which stretches out be­low the pass. Afghan po­lice check a mo­tor­cy­cle head­ing to the city of Kan­da­har at a new check­point on a pass lead­ing to the Arghandab Val­ley.

With U.S. sol­diers keep­ing watch, spe­cially trained Afghan po­lice of­fi­cers stand along­side tow­er­ing new con­crete bar­ri­ers that di­vide the two-lane high­way, which runs from the Arghandab into one of Kan­da­har’s more Tal­iban- friendly neigh­bor­hoods.

In the com­ing days, hun­dreds of Afghan and U.S. sol­diers will de­scend on the Arghandab in an at­tempt to push an es­ti­mated 150 to 200 Tal­iban mil­i­tants out of the val­ley’s vine­yards and groves.

The long-an­tic­i­pated bat­tle, which is ex­pected to last about two weeks, will be the first se­ri­ous test for U.S. and Afghan forces in Kan­da­har this sum­mer. If the Tal­iban can be chased out of the Arghandab and kept out, the troops will turn to­ward bat­tling mil­i­tants in even more dan­ger­ous parts of Kan­da­har prov­ince.

The ring of check­points is the most vis­i­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of the mil­i­tary plans.

Though the se­cu­rity web is in­com­plete, NATO’s top mil­i­tary strate­gists are bet­ting that the check­points will frus­trate Tal­iban at­tack­ers try­ing to hit Kan­da­har and force them out of the Arghandab.

The Tal­iban al­ready have set their sights on the se­cu­rity ring. On July 13, sui­cide bombers hit the main Afghan po­lice com­pound in Kan­da­har that’s re­spon­si­ble for the check­points. The so­phis­ti­cated at­tack killed three U.S. sol­diers, an Afghan po­lice of­fi­cer and three Afghan in­ter­preters.

“That se­cu­rity ring is a fil­ter,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges, di­rec­tor of NATO op­er­a­tions in south­ern Afghanistan. “It’s not a ring of steel. It’s not a de­fen­sive belt. It’s a fil­ter to sep­a­rate in­sur­gents from the pop­u­la­tion. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the en­emy is go­ing to come af­ter these things, be­cause they have been very ef­fec­tive.”

Dion Nis­senbaum

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