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U.S. troops push Afghan elders to resist rebels

After Operation Khyber, focus shifts to local governance.

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In a rock-strewn valley so remote that US and Afghan forces here call their base "Wilderness," tribal elders met under a dusty tent with Afghan politicians and American officers in a bid to turn recent military gains against insurgents into progress in local governance.

Ringed with layers of military security, the , or tribal meeting, Monday marked the close of Operation Khyber, a joint US-Afghan operation of nearly three weeks that is applying a refined counterinsurgency strategy to three tough districts in southeast Afghanistan's Paktia Province.

But while US and Afghan commanders say they have forced out insurgents – "creating effects," in their jargon, that they hope will last at least 60 days – getting government to the people is far from assured.

"Today it is your task to sustain the good situation in your area," Arsala Jamal, the provincial governor of Khost, cajoled scores of turbaned elders. Praising the "achievements" of the operation, he said it was now the duty of the tribes to turn against an "enemy [that] burns your school and your clinic." He told the crowd that the result would be "rewards" of reconstruction from the government and the US, a "golden opportunity" that may never come again.

"We want to live free; we don't want to live in slavery," said Mr. Jamal, who survived a fourth assassination attempt that killed three bodyguards the day Operation Khyber started, on Aug. 22. "And that can only happen when you say 'no' to the enemy and fight the enemy."

US military cash earmarked for development in these poverty-stricken districts adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars and a US-funded project to pave the important Khost-Gardez Pass road adds at least $60 million. They are meant to be the fruits of better security.

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