The Winter Set Up: Counter-Insurgency in Kandahar

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The fighting season in Afghanistan is in full swing, and the early reports indicate this one will be tough. After last year’s surge, American units, and the Afghan Army and police they’re partnered with, will be fighting to hold the areas they paid for dearly a year ago. One of the key provinces will be Kandahar.

In the months before the surge, much of Kandahar Province was the Wild West. A small Canadian unit patrolled Kandahar City, but the Taliban controlled much of the countryside. Last summer, the 1st “Raider” Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, which had been home from its third Iraq tour barely 14 months, deployed to Kandahar, fought pitched battles in Malajat and the Arghandab River Valley, then made camp in what had been Taliban strongholds.

When the fighting slowed, other hard work began. Counter-insurgency, especially in Afghanistan, is a two-part move. After the summer fighting, when most of the Taliban retreat to Pakistan, the American troops patrol their sectors endlessly and meet and try to learn every single person in each village. They train and develop the Afghan army and police, and above all they walk hundreds and hundreds of miles, always knowing that the next step could be on one of the thousands of landmines littering the country.

This January I embedded with the Raider brigade for almost a month. It was a homecoming of sorts. I served in the brigade from 2005 to 2009, and they let me go everywhere and see everything with units as small as sniper teams up to the brigade commander. They undertook difficult, cerebral and immensely frustrating tasks trying to get the locals on our side so in the summer, they’ll know who to fight. Here’s a look at the soldiers in Kandahar doing the tough winter work preparing for the fighting season now underway.