The South: here we are threatening Ahmed Wali Karzai and conceding — refreshingly/nervously — that there’s a lot of local knowledge about Kandahar we don’t have. The opening political phases of Operation Kandahar Take-Back have begun. The military phase gets underway by June.
The Chowkay shura, led by local elder Abdul Ghafai, was the last stop on a mission lasting several hours for elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. It was also a rare event: The last time NATO ventured deep into the valley was in February. Missions that far into the Chowkay are a roughly monthly occurrence, Snowden said. With small contingents of just a few hundred soldiers, each one responsible for several large valleys apiece across eastern Afghanistan, more frequent missions to the more remote locations are impossible.
The Afghan government, for its part, never ventures into the Chowkay unless as part of a NATO patrol. A low-ranking district agricultural official was the only Afghan government representative at the March shura.
An earlier NATO foray into the Chowkay had resulted in the death of an American soldier. “Every time we go into that valley, we lose a guy,” said one brigade soldier. He was exaggerating, but only barely. Much of the Chowkay lies beyond the “red line” that demarcates relatively safe territory from that in which patrols must make arrangements for extra support.
Axe’s report makes clear the inconsistent U.S./Afghan government presence means the locals don’t take the U.S.’s promises seriously, and in turn have little incentive to break with the insurgency. (On the other hand, in nearby Nuristan, a U.S. lieutenant colonel believes his presence unites disparate insurgent factions, and insurgent factions with the locals.) The Chowkay Valley is about ten miles away from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, sitting on the other side of the mountains from the Mohmand Agency. When I was in eastern Afghanistan a year and a half ago — and, to be clear, I was in Khost and Paktia, not Kunar — I heard lots of briefings about infiltration routes from Pakistan up through to Kabul and insurgent strategy along those routes. The idea that those strategies would be abandoned as U.S.-NATO strategy focuses on the south cannot be seriously believed.
As a result, I want to go back to eastern Afghanistan this year and see how either the whole strategy knits together or doesn’t.