Things were bad when we arrived in Kuduz during my second deployment to Afghanistan, in 2010. The Taliban controlled everything up to the roads. Our Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) partners were demoralized and unenthusiastic about shooting it out with the more numerous and enthusiastic Taliban militias in the area. Week after week, month after month, we kept at it, fighting against the Taliban until, with a few months to go in what turned out to be an 11-month deployment, a group of 17 Taliban surrendered. They were tired of fighting us, they said; they hadn’t been paid and were out of ammunition. A couple weeks later, 80 more Taliban fighters turned themselves in.
To take advantage of this momentum, we planned a mission to drive the Taliban out from the province altogether. And for a week in January 2011 that’s exactly what happened. The ANSF did all the fighting. After that battle, with the Taliban gone or having switched sides, we were able to walk or drive pickup trucks through our area without fear of attack. We even attended a Buzkashi match as hosts of our partner, the local chief for the Afghan National Police. It had been months of work with little to show for it, followed by a sudden breakthrough and a total change of the political landscape.
At the time, that felt to me like the same way that the U.S. would finally be able to hand things off to the ANSF, and the ANSF would then be able to secure their country for the government. But, as we saw this week, it was the ANSF and the government that were broken through by the Taliban. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems more likely that what I saw in 2010 was an essential part of Afghanistan itself: how the country and culture survive the foreign ideas and nations that regularly sweep over it before receding. Read more…