KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Hundreds of Canadian, American and Afghan troops pushed deep into Taliban country this week as part of an operation to rout the insurgents from an area in Kandahar they use to stage their attacks.
The coalition said its forces faced little resistance from the enemy fighters during the three-day mission, called Operation Khenkakak after a village in the area, southwest of Kandahar city.
No one fired on the Canadians and no one found any improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, said Maj. Luc Aubin, a senior operations officer with Canada’s mentoring team. He added the Americans did encounter some of the makeshift bombs.
But despite the apparent lack of action, Aubin said the mission was a success in that it was primarily planned and carried out by Afghan commanders on the ground.
“It’s harsh to say that because we didn’t find as much as expected that the whole operation was not successful,” he said.
Two Afghan battalions, called kandaks, were inserted into the eastern and western flanks of the village of Khenkakak, supported by engineers.
They worked their way down to another village, Yaru Kalay, which sits on the opposite banks of the Tarnak river.
Canadian and American forces provided backup, and Canadian army trainers accompanied the Afghan soldiers during the operation.
Aubin called the operation a “measured success.” Instead of top Afghan army commanders just giving orders, he said, troops on the ground took their own initiative.
“This is a first in terms of having a commander in one brigade enable his subordinate commanders to do just that, come up with a tactical solution to a situation that’s developing on the ground,” Aubin said.
“He basically gave them the problem to fix, which is a huge mind shift for ANA guys.”
The operation took place in a roughly nine square-kilometre patch of the volatile Panjwaii district, which coalition forces have cleared twice already since the spring.
The area is a major transit point for fighters going to and from neighbouring Pakistan.
It’s Taliban country — or at least it was until tens of thousands of American troops flooded southern Afghanistan this year.
Winning over the locals has proved difficult for the U.S.-led coalition. The Noorzai are the biggest tribe in the area. Within Afghanistan’s complex tribal system, the Noorzai are the most likely to be pro-Taliban.
Friendly locals allow the insurgents to move supplies and weapons up along the Tarnak river up through Khenkakak and onto neighbouring districts.
But in recent months, NATO has sought to disrupt Taliban supply lines, pushing the insurgents off the area’s main arteries and onto small back roads often no wider than a country path.