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American Forces Press Service

Taliban See Writing on the Wall, U.S. Commander Says

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2011 – The success of Afghan government-led efforts to reintegrate former insurgents into society indicate the success of government and coalition forces in Afghanistan, a U.S. commander told Pentagon reporters today.

Noting a Taliban commander’s recent offer to surrender 30 to 300 fighters, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., commander of Regional Command Southwest, said insurgents “see the writing on the wall.”

“He understands that we're making progress,” Toolan said. “He understands, for example, that in Sangin today, there is very, very little violence. And when you compare it with six months, five months, a year ago, he realizes that this now is the time. And that actually has become sort of the motto, … that now's the time, Taliban, to come back and join the government.”

Toolan said he attended a meeting in Helmand province with village elders, all the district governors and the Afghan security force leadership to discuss reintegration.

“It becomes a powerful tool when it’s used properly and when it actually brings legitimate insurgents back into the fold,” he said. “So this reintegration effort is extremely important, and as it progresses, we'll find that … the momentum will just take off.”

Part of the insurgents’ motivation for returning to the government has been pressure from successful operations in the region, Toolan said. And insurgents know that senior Taliban leaders living in Pakistan are not coming to Helmand, he added, because when they do, they get captured or killed.

“And that sends a powerful message to the mid-level managers [and] the mid-level Taliban who are operating in Helmand province,” the general said. “So their leadership's not there.”

The Taliban are experiencing significant problems with a shortage of materials, Toolan said, especially those they need to build improvised explosive devices and for the drug trade that finances their operations.

“We're constantly interdicting materials for IED-making,” he said. “We've captured hundreds of thousands of gallons of precursor chemicals that they're using to convert opium to heroin. We're hurting them in the pocketbook, and we're hurting them physically when they try to move into Helmand province.”

The general also said internal conflict has weakened the Taliban.

“We're very aggressive in getting that message across that there are many splits in the Taliban hierarchy. … Taliban leaders that are here living in the province are saying, ‘It’s time for me to go home,’” he said.

The general noted that another aspect of the internal conflict is local insurgents turning their backs on outsiders coming in from Pakistan and other places.

“They're ready to fight them off, and they're ready to re-engage with the government of Afghanistan,” he said.

Toolan said improved organization, structure an d performance of Afghan security forces also are contributing to Taliban fighters returning to the government.

“The police during that authoritarian period were extremely corrupt and extremely abusive, and it turned the people against them,” he said. Citing a “much improved” police force as an example, Toolan said they now have a sense of pride and a sense of mission, and no longer prey on the people through corruption.

“And the people are starting to trust them,” he added. “All of these things are contributing to this positive trend of reintegration and [insurgents] coming out of the cold, and joining back with their friends and families in Afghanistan.”

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