'Drawdown' is a colloquial term used to describe the US withdraweral
from Afghanistan. In this essay John D McHugh re-visits the Panjwayi district,
in the southern province of Kandahar. Whilst embedded with the US army John D
meets Abdul Jalil, the ALP commander of a local village. It comes to pass that
Jalil’s life is a tragic mirror of life all over the war torn country.
In June 2013 President Hamid Karzai announced that the Afghanistan
National Security Forces (ANSF) are now in the lead in all areas of the
country. This has been the goal for many years, and on paper it is an amazing
milestone. The 350,000 personnel of the ANSF made up of Afghan National Army
(ANA), Afghan National Police (ANP), Afghan Border Police (ABP), Afghan
National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), and most recently created, the Afghan
Local Police (ALP).
district was the very first place I worked in Afghanistan back in 2006, and
in April/May 2013 I went back. I was
there to look at the drawdown of US forces as their departure date of 2014
approaches, and how the transition to Afghan security forces was shaping up.
With the US army
in the process of extracting themselves from Afghanistan, the main effort of
the war is now resting on the Afghans, and in Panjwayi, it is really the Afghan
Local Police (ALP) that is on the frontline. The ALP is yet another security
force created by the Americans. It is basically a militia, with village elders
selecting men from their own area to keep the Taliban out. Some are given 3 weeks
training by Special Forces, but most are simply handed a gun and get no
instruction at all. They are widely derided, and accused of extortion,
corruption, bribery, collusion with the Taliban, selling their equipment, guns
and ammo, and worse. However, I also saw another side to the ALP story. The ALP
I interviewed complained that they never have enough guns or ammunition to
defend themselves properly, are forced to live in compounds that are almost
indefensible, are submitted to continuous attacks by the Taliban, and get no
support from the Afghan National Army. They claim they are basically cannon
fodder, used to keep the Americans out of the fight and so away from danger.
Abdul Jalil was the self-appointed ALP commander in a
village called Pay-E Moluk, just 400 metres from the Sperwan Ghar base occupied
by the Afghan Army. Jalil’s police checkpoint was just a single walled
compound, sitting on the edge of the village. On one side a field of poppies
grew, and on the other sat more buildings, close in, and tactically a
nightmare. He told me the checkpoint was attacked almost daily by Taliban
fighters, and that he was barely able to venture out of the building without
being shot at.
On the last day
of my trip, I headed out on a foot patrol when the Americans were going to
visit Jalil and introduce him to the new Afghan National Army soldiers
stationed nearby. Within minutes the patrol was ambushed. The Taliban were
30-50 metres away, concealed in a tree line. The Americans returned fire, and
the Afghan soldiers joined in.
The Taliban were
on the run. Their initial attack had failed to kill or even wound anybody, and
at the same time the American soldiers had refused to chase after them,
believing that there were IEDs emplaced for just such an impulsive reaction.
This was confirmed later in the day when an elder told the ALP about several
IEDs waiting for them at a small footbridge deeper in the village. But Jalil,
usually outmanned and outgunned, desperately wanted the US troops to help him
chase down and kill his adversary with the American’s seemingly endless supply
of bullets and bombs, not to mention the helicopters and fast jets overhead.
Over the next 5
hours, as I tried not to get my head shot off, I witnessed first hand the
problems of the war. With the massive threat from Improvised Explosive Devices
(IEDs) and booby traps, the US troops rely heavily on their mine-detection
equipment. But this takes time, and so the Americans move slowly and carefully.
On the other hand, Jalil and his ALP have no mine-detecting capability, and are
not weighed down with body armour and lots of extra ammunition, so they can
Captain Boise had had enough. He declared the day “a tactical victory” and
decided to pull his men back. Jalil would return to his checkpoint, shorter
than ever of ammunition and surrounded again by his enemy. Sadly, but
unsurprisingly, Jalil was killed a few days later in yet another shoot out with