6 years ago
McClatchy recently had an interesting report on the importance of roads in counterinsurgency. It’s lengthy but well worth the time.
Two hundred U.S. troops rumbled into a key Taliban stronghold Wednesday in a major operation to stop insurgents from infiltrating the Afghan capital from the south and to clear the way for the first sustained international aid effort in this remote valley.
Supported by about 200 Afghan soldiers and their French army trainers, the 200 U.S. soldiers encountered no resistance.
But the locals’ reactions to their arrival ranged from skepticism to hostility. “Down To America” dabbed in whitewash greeted the U.S. column as it entered the Jalrez Valley from the U.S. base in Maydan Shahr, the capital of Wardak province.
Icy-eyed villagers stared as towering MRAP armored trucks and other vehicles towing trailers, generators and guns, protected by two helicopter gunships and two A-10 “tank-buster” jets, plowed parts of the valley’s main track into knee-high furrows of dense mud. The convoy halted traffic for hours and churned slowly through the main bazaar twice, filling the crisp winter air with choking clouds of diesel fumes.
“Everything was OK before they came here,” Mohammad Sharif growled as he sat in his dingy confectionery shop glaring at the American vehicles stopped outside. “We don’t want them to come here. We haven’t needed them for 1,000 years. This is our country.”
U.S. officers contend that the valley, about 50 miles south of Kabul, is under firm Taliban control and that the guerrillas enjoy strong support among the district’s ethnic Pashtuns, who constitute 30 percent of the Jalrez District’s impoverished population of about 66,000.
“This is where key leaders of the Taliban are located,” said Lt. Tyjuan Campbell of Apache Company, 2nd Battalion, 82nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division.
U.S. and French officers said Taliban explosives experts produce roadside bombs and suicide vests in the valley. The insurgents also use the area to infiltrate Kabul and launch attacks, stealing through the mountains on narrow tracks and goat paths.
Campbell conceded that the U.S. force made no friends with its two-way, three-hour, fume-belching grind through the main bazaar’s narrow lane.
“I’m pretty sure they got quite upset. We rolled right through there and rolled right back again,” Campbell said as the sun set and the biting cold intensified.
The main force’s long column of vehicles was supposed to drive the 15 miles to the Jalrez Bazaar at around 40 mph. But a partially completed Chinese-built paved road gave way to a rutted, waterlogged track that forced the armored vehicles to slow to less than 10 mph at some points.
The convoy took four hours to reach the main bazaar, passing the abandoned, French-built agricultural center where it was supposed to establish a base.
Inside the bazaar, the U.S. trucks and Humvees idled for more than 45 minutes. Men crouched on the verges, and women wearing full-length burqas and cradling infants hurried by.
After the troops realized that they’d passed the agricultural center, the convoy had to turn around on the narrow track. The return journey took three hours.
Aziz Ahmad, one of several dozen drivers and passengers stalled by the convoy, at first expressed anger and resentment at the outsiders, complaining about the blockage and saying villagers “are afraid that fighting will now start here. They are scared.”
The situation looks bleak at this point. So what might be able to turn it around?
But Ahmad said many residents would reconsider their views if the Americans paved the track.
“If they pave the road, that is a foundation for Afghanistan,” he said. “Things will begin to change.”
So in addition to potentially being a game-changer with the sentiments of the population, do roads help the security situation? We’ve posed this question before, and the answer appears to be unequivocally that it does.
“I can’t tell you how important roads are,” said Colonel Pete Johnson, the commander of U.S. forces in southeast Afghanistan, where development lags central and northern areas and paved roads are minimal.
“If we pave roads, there’s almost an automatic shift of IEDs to other areas because it makes it so much more difficult for the enemy to emplace them … Roads here mean security,” he told Reuters in an interview last week.
So build them roads. But don’t leave, because the insurgents will take them over, use them for transit and checkpoints, and defeat their intended purpose. The insurgency must be defeated. Win the population in order to develop an avenue into the heart of the insurgents.