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'Diablo' weakens Taliban mountain stronghold

By Staff Sgt. Jacob Caldwell

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Army News Service, June 28, 2005) – In the rugged mountains of northern Kandahar Province during June, Combined Task Force Bayonet engaged Taliban forces in some of the fiercest fighting seen this year in Afghanistan.

Led by the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, coalition forces kicked off the military operation known as “Diablo Reach Back” June 7 in the mountainous terrain of Shah Wali Kot district.

The coalition forces included soldiers and policemen from the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, the Romanian Army; and U.S. forces from the 3-319th AFAR; 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment; and the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Diablo Reach Back, a follow-up mission to Diablo Reach conducted in May, was designed to clear the area of anti-coalition militia so that the provincial government of Kandahar can establish a permanent presence and a good line of communication in the remote, northern district, according to Lt. Col. Bert Ges, 3-319th AFAR and Task Force Gundevil commander.

The Shah Wali Kot district is considered to be one of the last Taliban strongholds in Kandahar province, but Ges said that may soon end as the patience of the district’s residents grows thin with anti-coalition forces.

“For the most part, the people out here are tired of the Taliban,” said Ges.

“Because there is no government representation out here, the Taliban come out of the hills and take their food, beat on them, harass them, and then leave.”

Establishing security in the district is the first priority, said Ges, but another is to strengthen the positions of the district leadership. Once this is done, reconstruction efforts can begin in the embattled region.

Ges said he wants to establish a satellite police station in Gumbad by July 1.

“Gumbad to me is very key terrain in the Gumbad valley,” said Ges, “The people are supportive of us. We have had several major shuras (meetings with village leaders) there. We have identified a building, and we want to rent it. We are going to bring ANP forces up there. Anywhere from 20 to 40 men and then we will augment them with (U.S. forces), anywhere from 16 to 40 men. That is to get the infrastructure started, establish communications, and then we’ll nominate a project for an actual police sub-station there.”

“I’ve put a very aggressive timeline of 1 July for this project. I just want to get some troops up there,” said Ges, “I realize they may be living out of their vehicle for the first few weeks. But I just want to get them in there, get a foothold and then expand from there. Every time we are in that village they know that we can provide security. They see the helicopters and the artillery fire. But when we leave, the Taliban can then return. So that’s why in the Gumbad project we want to show that permanent presence. Get the ANP there and help them out.”

Security has been a challenge in the district. This operation alone saw minor battles near the villages of Zamto Kalay and Chenartu. There was also significant enemy contact made by Delta Company, 2-504th PIR June 14 in the vicinity of Takht Kalay and June 17 in the vicinity of Gumbad.

“The men that we are fighting now have been around for awhile,” said Ges, “They know how we fight, so we have to be very quick and aggressive… All of the operations that we have had during Diablo Reach Back have had ANA soldiers with them. They are the main effort. We have substantial forces here also, but they do the bulk of the fighting.”

Specifically involved in this operation were ANA soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade and ANA soldiers from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade, according to Maj. Kevin Bigelman, 3-319th AFAR Operations Officer.

“The ANA did a great job. They were well equipped, well led, and they did exactly what they were tasked to do, which was to clear the objective area and the surrounding towns,” said Bigelman.

“There has been a significant reduction in enemy forces,” said Cpt. George Whittenburg, 3-319th AFAR Intelligence Officer, “The terrain does not lend itself to finding bodies.”

The reception of coalition forces by the residents has been varied.

“At the worst, the reception has been neutral,” said Ges, “But some have been very positive. It all comes down to the leadership of the villages.”

Maintaining and improving the relationships with the various village elders is essential to the success of future operations in the village.

“We don’t want to come into a location or objective, clear it and then leave,” said Ges, “We want to clear the area and then go right into civil affairs.”

“What we have been doing during this operation is bringing the district chief and the district police chief with us to show them the conditions of the area and let them hear what the people are saying,” said Ges, “We always end up with what is called a shura, a meeting with the village leaders and elders.”

“And then we do a village assessment. We review all of their issues and concerns and we are very honest with them. We get all of the potential projects that they may want to have accomplished. We take them back to Kandahar to the province headquarters. And there, they do an assessment themselves and begin to prioritize (the projects),” said Ges.

Leading an international and inter-battalion force, in what are typically infantry missions, has been a rewarding experience said Ges, a field artillery officer.

“I’m very impressed by the paratroopers who come in hard, fight the enemy, and then, like that, they are already going into the next phase, where we are trying to help the people,” Ges said, “Our paratroopers know at all times that the Afghan people are not the enemy, that the enemy is the Taliban.

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Jacob Caldwell serves with Combined Task Force Bayonet Public Affairs.)

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