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Long slow hunt for arms, enemy

Soldiers sweep villages ,often fruitlessly and train Afghans as they go

 By CJ Chivers New York Times

 ESPANDI Afghanistan — First Lt Aaron Childers stood before a doorway inside a mud-walled compound while an Afghan and American patrol searched behind him.  Paratroopers swept metal detectors over the dusty ground looking for buried weapons and ammunition.
   Childers is a platoon commander with the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Airborne Division engaged in the long slow counterinsurgency campaign that the Afghan government and the United States hope will marginalize the Taliban and make Afghanistan capable of self-rule.
   On this day the platoon’s mission was to cordon off part of the village and capture Mullah Shabir, a low-level Taliban commander, and to search for caches of rockets or mortar rounds.  In recent months many had been fired from the village toward the command post of the platoon’s parent unit the 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry.
  The paratroopers also hope to teach Afghanistan’s indigenous security forces, still an inconsistent lot, to work effectively and with each other, Of the 58 people in the patrol, 12 were Afghan soldiers, five were Afghan police officers and seven were agents of the National Directorate of Security, Afghanistan’s intelligence service.

    Under American tutelage Afghanistan’s army and intelligence service have shown signs of improvement in recent years American officers say. The police remain beset by incompetence corruption and sloth. The Americans watched the officers closely aware that they might steal.
   The patrol found its way to the village’s bazaar where a group of small shops were clustered around a mosque. The American officers began to interview shopkeepers and elderly men .
  “We are here today in Espandi to make it safer,” Childers said.
   A man with a white beard nodded after the sentence was translated. “Thank you," he said.
   “There arc reports of people bringing rockets and weapons here,” the lieutenant said.
   “We don’t know about this,” the old man answered.
   The elderly men and the lieutenant settled into a conversation; the old men said the village could use another well. The lieutenant said he would see if he could arrange to have one dug. He thanked the group and stood up and gave a signal to the patrol.
   The paratroopers stood and filed away down the alleys.
   A short while later they slipped out of the village and into the barren flatlands where old habits of the infantry took over and they dispersed into a wide formation and began the long walk home in the fading light to wait for the next job/

[The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte, NC, 25 Nov 2007, Sun, Page 4]

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