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In Helmand, Afghan General Fights Taliban ‘Cancer’ With Some Help From U.S. Marines

New recruits of a Afghan 215th Corps arrange during Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province.

Peter Breslow/NPR


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New recruits of a Afghan 215th Corps arrange during Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province.

Peter Breslow/NPR

The new infantry of a Afghan 215th Corps are fabricated on a far-reaching piazza during midday during their base, called Camp Shorabak.

Passing in examination is their new commander, Maj. Gen. Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai. He valid himself fighting a Taliban in northeast Afghanistan. Now he’s in assign of Helmand — a deadliest range in a uneasy country.

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Ahmadzai is brief and squat, with a thick black mustache and thinning hair. He’s a lerned commando, one of a toughest soldiers. His dual predecessors were dismissed for corruption. The many new one is in jail. Only final year, a Americans here were singing his hurtful predecessor’s praises.

After a new cooking with U.S. Marine officers, Ahmadzai spoke with NPR about a hurdles ahead.

Corruption is usually a start, Ahmadzai says by his translator, of what’s wrong with Helmand.

“Helmand is one of a categorical concerns and has a lot of problems,” a ubiquitous says. “One of a categorical problems is poppy cultivation and trade and trafficking.”

The poppy stand is incited into drug and heroin. It finances a Taliban and fuels a corruption, generally among politicians and police.

Afghan Major General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai addresses new recruits of a Afghan 215th Corps during Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province. The American infantry has placed faith in General Ahmadzai’s ability to lead a quarrel opposite a Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

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Afghan Major General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai addresses new recruits of a Afghan 215th Corps during Camp Shorabak in Helmand Province. The American infantry has placed faith in General Ahmadzai’s ability to lead a quarrel opposite a Taliban in southern Afghanistan.

Peter Breslow/NPR

And a poppy problem goes distant over insurgents and corruption. Afghan heroin is now found in vast amounts in Europe and North America, and a nation stays a top drug writer in a world.

Helmand is also tormented by Afghanistan’s neighbors — Iran and Pakistan — relocating weapons or Taliban fighters into a country. Afghan and U.S. officials contend Iran is funneling arms to a Taliban, and Pakistan for years has authorised Taliban protected havens.

“That’s also one of a problems that done Helmand a mom of problems for a country,” says a general. “And it’s usually like a cancer, though we try a best to overcome.”

The Taliban still control or change far-reaching swaths of Helmand Province and other tools of Afghanistan. Officials contend in a initial 6 months of 2017, a Taliban grabbed even some-more territory, and now some-more than 40 percent of a country’s districts are possibly underneath Taliban control or are contested.

Col. Matthew Reid is one of 300 Marines who arrived in Helmand progressing this year. He struggles to explain how bad things looked behind then.

“It was in need of some effort,” he says. “So as we came in, a essential charge was do not concede a provincial collateral to fall.”

That capital, a city of Lashkar Gah, did not fall. And now a Marines are assisting Ahmadzai pull out and retake some-more land from a Taliban. Reid pronounced a ubiquitous leads from a front, something his dismissed predecessors did not do.

“He gets it and he has a disposition for action,” says Reid. “He’s got a commando background. What’s good about what we’re saying now in operations is his brigade commanders and [battalion] commanders, they’re all now following his lead. So now, with his leadership, they’re following by example. You’re starting to see his subordinates take on a disposition for action, and that’s good. One man can’t do it all.”

Afghan Major General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai and his group devise operations opposite a Taliban with their American Marine counterparts in Helmand.

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Afghan Major General Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai and his group devise operations opposite a Taliban with their American Marine counterparts in Helmand.

Peter Breslow/NPR

But it’s not usually Ahmadzai’s assertive ways that will make a difference. The American infantry this year started pulsation a Taliban with airstrikes — double a series from final year. The Marines contend that has given new certainty to Afghan troops.

The Marine commander in Helmand, Brig. Gen. Roger Turner, watches a worker feed on a video shade during an Afghan base. Taliban fighters are seen in a grainy footage, hastily along a mud trail. Soon, bombs tumble and they disappear in a cloud.

But a augmenting airstrikes have also led to some-more municipal casualties.

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Civilian casualties due to bloc and Afghan airstrikes have risen by 52 percent in a initial 9 months of 2017, compared to a same duration final year, according to a new news by John Sopko, a special examiner ubiquitous for Afghanistan reconstruction, citing a U.N.

The report, again citing a U.N., says 38 percent of a sum series of civilians killed by airstrikes — 177 of 466 people — were attributed to ubiquitous forces.

But a news records that U.S. Forces-Afghanistan disagrees with a U.N.’s methodology on this magnitude and has a opposite number, attributing 43 municipal casualties to ubiquitous airstrikes in those 9 months. The U.N.’s series also appears to run opposite to what Gen. John Nicholson, a tip commander of U.S. army in Afghanistan, pronounced in an speak with NPR final month.

“We’ve seen an boost in [civilian casualties] caused by a insurgents and an tangible rebate in [civilian casualties] caused by a bloc and Afghans,” pronounced Nicholson. “And a [civilian casualties] caused by U.S. airstrikes is reduction than 2 percent. It’s really low.”

Aggressive U.S. strategy is a film we’ve seen before. Turner — as good as Reid — served in Afghanistan years ago, when thousands of Marines were deeply concerned in fighting a Taliban. Some of a younger Marines on their initial debate here contend they wish they were in a fight, rather than usually advising.

“The Marines would adore to be a ones holding a quarrel directly to a enemy,” says Turner. “And so they would adore to be doing that. But during a same time, they comprehend we’re here to capacitate a partners.”

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A day later, Turner is huddled with those partners — Ahmadzai and his subordinates. They widespread out a map to devise new operations opposite a Taliban, north of a provincial capital.

Turner offers a pep talk.

“If we work together,” a ubiquitous tells them, “with all of a Afghan army operative together and afterwards a support we yield you, we can over-match a Taliban each singular time.”

That’s still an open question. Afghan army and infantry casualties continue to rise.

One Afghan infantryman NPR interviewed pronounced his section was scarcely overshoot in northern Helmand Province progressing this year, and it was usually a attainment of a Afghan commandos that saved them.

Now that soldier, Capt. Muhammad Allem, is training to be a commando himself, holding partial in live-fire exercises during Camp Commando outward Kabul.

“I usually wish to be some-more professional,” says Allem. “That’s because we assimilated a commandos and we will offer for a future.”

The Americans wish to double a series of commandos — now during 17,000 — in a entrance years, and also double a distance of a Afghan atmosphere force. The U.S. is providing that force with American Black Hawk helicopters to reinstate a aging Russian Mi-17s.

Still, neatly augmenting these chosen army will be a plea in a nation where around 70 percent of a race is illiterate, and young, prepared Afghans continue to rush a nation for places like India and Germany.

So in a meantime, a predestine of Afghanistan will continue to tumble on Marines like Staff Sgt. Daniel Edwards, now on his third debate in Helmand Province.

On his initial tour, behind in 2009 during a tallness of a Marine push, he mislaid 7 friends. Now during age 30, he admits he is comparison and wiser, and not as fervent to quarrel as a younger Marines. But he says he will come behind to train, to make certain Afghanistan doesn’t once again spin a militant haven.

His thoughts spin to his son, usually 18 months old.

“I’ll come behind to this nation as many times as we have to,” he says, “to make certain a generations that are as aged as my son don’t.”