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US soldiers frustrated in Afghan stabilisation drive

world Updated: Jul 01, 2010 10:33 IST

Hours after surviving a roadside bombing, US Captain Kevin Krupski pleaded with Afghan villagers to appoint a leader brave enough to help his men hunt down Taliban insurgents.

The last leader the Americans worked with, Muhammad Naby, quit after grumbling about a lack of development contracts that came the village's way and also, he said, because of Taliban threats.

Taliban assassinations of pro-government village leaders are intensifying as foreign forces try to marginalise militants by improving security at the same time as a drive for better local governance and development.

Soldiers on the ground, like Krupski, are under mounting pressure to pacify the Taliban under the new strategy, but finding locals to work with is often difficult.

Sitting in a tent at an American camp in Kandahar province set up for Afghans to express their concerns, about 30 villagers listened to Krupski explain how the United States could only help them if they shared information on Taliban activities.

"You need a representative to work with us against the Taliban," said the 26-year-old native of Long Island.

The problem always comes back to security - a growing frustration for US troops who, on one foot patrol after another, feel they are providing it.

"If all these American soldiers and 10 Afghan national policemen can't protect them, who can?" he asked Reuters.

"When was the last time there was a targeted killing of a local official?"

Dand district, where Gorgan is located, is relatively stable compared to other parts of the country, where there are lots of targeted killings.

The US military has given some small projects to the villagers of Gorgan, in the Taliban heartland Kandahar Province, but jobs filling sandbags or working as kitchen help provide little sustainable income.

Antagonising villagers is a frequent risk.

Elders complained to Krupski that a brother of a camp worker was wrongfully questioned after the IED blast that hit the captain's vehicle. US soldiers said the man was spotted in the vicinity of bombings three times.

"They are not handcuffed. They are free to go. They came here voluntarily," a frustrated Krupski told the villagers.

Yet the questioning is thorough. A US staff sergeant, who did not wish to be identified, spent hours asking the man about his activities on the day of the IED attack. Another soldier checked his hands for explosives residue.

In the end, pressure from the villagers forced the questioning to end prematurely. They said the Taliban remain dangerous - despite the US presence - and finding a leader willing to confront them may not be possible.