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US lacks help from Afghan locals

The battle for this rural Taliban stronghold is not about killing insurgents, US military officials say. It is about getting the new district governor to stop the grenades.

world Updated: Jul 17, 2010 01:25 IST

The battle for this rural Taliban stronghold is not about killing insurgents, US military officials say. It is about getting the new district governor to stop the grenades.

Soon after Karim Jan assumed the post in June, the explosives began sailing over mud walls and onto US troops patrolling the labyrinth of Senjaray, the biggest town in a district that US officials say is under near-complete Taliban control. Two weeks later, five soldiers had been wounded in a half-dozen strikes. The attacks amounted to a test: Would Senjaray's elders side with Jan or the Taliban?

"All I need you to do is to protect your village," Jan, 35, told 80 weathered men who gathered at his office.

As thousands of new US troops push into Kandahar city and nearby villages, their focus is on propping up inexperienced local leaders such as Jan. The aim is to persuade the population to defy the Taliban and back the weak Afghan government at its lowest levels.

"It's a trial, and the people are the jury," said Army Capt. Nick Stout, 27, a commander of the 101st Airborne company that has patrolled Senjaray out of a sun-scorched hilltop outpost for two months. "Whoever presents the best case ... they're going to side with."

Effort to bolster local governments are hampered by villagers' conflicted loyalties, the Taliban's stranglehold on the population and Afghans' anger at the US presence.

NATO officials say nowhere could it be more difficult to promote governance than in Zhari, a tribal patchwork west of Kandahar that was the birthplace of the Taliban movement. Coalition forces there have never been large enough to implement real change.

For now, Jan is the government of Zhari, a lush agricultural belt the Taliban uses as a key command and supply center.


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