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The Fayetteville Observer December 07, 2006

Paratroopers brace for Taliban

By Kevin Maurer

Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division will face a re-energized Taliban when they deploy to Afghanistan next year, experts say.

About 6,000 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne’s headquarters and its 4th Brigade Combat Team are headed to Afghanistan next year. The paratroopers will replace the 10th Mountain Division.

“It is going to be as tough as it is in Iraq, if not tougher. Afghanistan is in danger of being a version of Iraq,” said Larry Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

Korb said the Taliban is gaining ground. There has been an increase in suicide bomb attacks — six in the last nine days in the Kandahar region — and roadside bombs are widely used throughout the country.

Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne said Wednesday they are prepared for the fight.

“That’s our job, to destroy the enemy,” said 2nd Lt. Stephen David, who is assigned to the 4th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment.

Paratroopers from the 73rd Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment spent Wednesday training on Fort Bragg’s rifle ranges.

Most of the paratroopers don’t expect to see a lot of combat in Afghanistan.

“This isn’t Korea or Vietnam. We’re not taking hills anymore. It is more of a humanitarian effort,” said Pfc. Matt Steffen, a 26-year-old from Philadelphia who is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

This is Steffen’s first deployment.

Much of 4th Brigade’s training at at the Army’s Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in Louisiana focused on the humanitarian and reconstruction effort. During training missions, paratroopers built rapport with the local population and assisted the fledgling Afghan government, the paratroopers said.

David said humanitarian operations are harder than combat missions.

“You don’t always know who the enemy is. We have a difficult challenge. We have to learn their culture,” David said.

Despite five years in Afghanistan, John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.org, a Washington defense policy think tank, sees no end to the fighting.

“In the absence of several thousand troops to keep a lid on the place it will come to a boil pretty quickly,” Pike said.

Korb believes that coalition forces will launch a major offensive in the spring and Pakistan must crack down on Taliban fighters crossing the border into Afghanistan.

The Iraq Study Group, in a report released Wednesday, said increased deployments to Iraq are limiting resources to Afghanistan.

“It is critical for the United States to provide additional political, economic, and military support for Afghanistan, including resources that might become available as combat forces are moved from Iraq,” the group concluded.

Pike warns that fewer attacks in the next few months is because of the winter.

“Next year will be worse because the Taliban have one more year to organize, train and equip,” he said.

Copyright 2006, The Fayetteville Observer