BAZAAR-E-PANJWAII., Afghanistan — The governor of Kandahar’s restive Panjwaii district pleaded with NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan on Monday for more money and resources to convince insubordinate Taliban to lay down their weapons.
Haji Fazluddin Agha’s appeal came as U.S. Gen. David Petraeus paid tribute to Canadian troops who are on the cusp of departing the southern region following five long, bloody years of fighting.
“This has been Canada’s area,” Petraeus said in an interview. “What Canada hands off now to the U.S. elements that take over is dramatically improved.”
He noted that the Panjwaii is one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Kandahar, an “area that used to be Mullah Omar’s hometown and used to be a Taliban stronghold.”
But Petraeus says it now belongs to Afghan security forces, something Canada has “contributed to significantly.”
The U.S. commander was accompanied by Canadian Brig.-Gen Dean Milner, who gave the ISAF commander an aerial tour of a recently completed road project that cuts through the former Taliban stronghold of the Horn of Panjwaii.
Just how tenuous the hold on the region remains was underlined with determination by Fazluddin Agha, who complained bitterly about the cumbersome process and scarcity of funds from Kabul to push Taliban re-intregration to the next level.
More help would convince many people in his area, one of the most troubled in Afghanistan, to quit the insurgency ahead of the summer fighting season, said the district governor who spoke at length during a luncheon at the heavily fortified district centre.
Fazluddin Agha conceded that not all militants will be swayed by promises of amnesty and a job.
“I can only tell Mullah Omar (that) if anyone wants to fight: Bring it on.”
Petraeus promised to raise the concerns in a meeting Wednesday with President Hamid Karzai, but cautioned afterward that re-integration of insurgents needs to be a careful, deliberate process.
“This is a process… that needs to be done properly,” he said. “You should not rush to failure.”
Earlier in the spring, an optimistic Petraeus endorsed the Afghan government program and predicted almost 5,000 insurgents had either laid down their weapons or were on the way to doing so.
The Karzai government pleaded with NATO countries for years to back such a program and received only a lukewarm response.
Under the program, insurgents who want to give up are vetted, disarmed and given jobs, but the system is slow and cash is not quick to flow.
“Doing it properly means it will be enduring, which would not be the case if it is not done correctly,” said Petraeus, who met with senior Canadian commander for perhaps last time before the Royal 22e Regiment battle group leaves for home in July.
“There is a bureaucracy connected with this (re-integration) process. There’s a lot of hard work going on to streamline the various steps that are required.”
But at the same time, the NATO commander already sees the Afghan peace scheme as more efficient than the one that was implemented in Iraq.
He predicted a tough fighting season.
“The Taliban will try to come back,” he said. “They (will) try and regain what’s been lost. It matters greatly to them.”
But that doesn’t seem to affect plans to begin drawing down U.S. forces in July. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the magic number is expected to be about 5,000 soldiers.
Petraeus indicate earlier this month, the United States would go ahead with plans withdraw its soldiers as Canada transitions to a non-combat training mission — a new role for which he had overwhelming praise.
Up to 950 soldiers and support staff will soon begin classroom instruction for Afghan soldiers and cops in the Kabul area, as well as at centres in the north and west of the troubled country. They are expected to remain until 2014.