KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — It is a question that gives Maj. Robert Tesselaar pause.
How much have Afghan forces “honestly” planned the latest operation to be conducted in Kandahar’s Panjwaii district?
“Not as much as I would’ve liked as the lead planner,” Tesselaar said. “But a fair bit.”
With that concise answer, Tesselaar cuts through the generic, sanitized claims of battlefield success and underscores the challenge that will remain once Canadian troops pull out of the war-torn province this summer.
The Afghan National Security Forces have indeed improved their skills and boosted their ranks under the guidance of the Canadian military. They have also recently taken on a greater role in planning operations in an effort to flush the Taliban out of strongholds and reassure locals that communities are becoming safer.
But the ability of Afghan forces to maintain security independently is an open question, despite Canada’s five-year stay in Kandahar.
Last week, Canadian, Afghan and American soldiers conducted an operation in Panjwaii aimed at disrupting the insurgency ahead of the summer fighting season. Troops searched compounds and found caches of weapons and drugs.
Under the agreement to embed with the Canadian military, journalists are not allowed to report information about detainees.
In all, about 3,500 were involved in the planning and execution of the operation, which was actually a phase of a larger operation called Operation Tayra Taygh, which means “Sharp Blade” in Pashto, the Canadian military said.
Troops patrolled the areas of Nakhonay, Zangabad and the Horn of Panjwaii — all known Taliban enclaves that have been deadly terrain for Canadian troops.
During the operation, one American and two Afghan soldiers were injured.
In a sign that the fighting season is nearing, soldiers encountered a 35-minute TIC — military jargon for “troops in contact” — on Saturday, said Maj. Martin LaRose, the operations officer for Canada’s battle group.
The accuracy and sustainment of the attack is beyond the harassing fire some soldiers are more accustomed to seeing and suggests a better trained insurgent has re-entered the battlefield, LaRose said.
“They can shoot better than other guys we’ve seen,” he said. “That means they have a … level of training instead of a farmer just picking up his AK and just firing somewhere.”
LaRose is on his second tour of Afghanistan. He was last in the country in 2006, a year that saw 37 Canadians killed as part of the mission.
He did not conclude that tour unscathed. He injured both his feet while going over a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.
LaRose said if there is one area where Afghan forces need to improve on, it’s developing long-term plans.
“I think it’s … more co-ordinating effects on the ground and not thinking about just one small operation,” he said.
The operation was one of the last before the Canadian Forces finish the military mission in July.