With security established in Kabul and improving in Kandahar, US military planners wanted to eliminate the instability in the areas between them.
In Ghazni, the 1,000 Polish troops posted there reportedly lacked the resources to do much more than secure the area directly around the highway and did little to protect the outlying villages. As a result, the Taliban managed to gain a strong foothold in Ghazni.
Last summer, the US military took control of the province and increased the number of soldiers there to nearly 3,000.
“Overall the mission was to come in and produce a stronghold,” says US Army Lt. Matt Long, a platoon commander in Delta Company of the 2-504 Parachute Infantry Regiment. “I think we’ve significantly affected the area in what [the Taliban] can and can’t do.”
Throughout Afghanistan, whether these gains hold depends largely on the ability of the Afghan security forces that continue to take over responsibility for security ahead of the 2014 deadline.
In Qarah Bagh, many joint patrols are now planned and led by the Afghan military, with US troops there largely to support the Afghan National Army if it needs it.
Though US soldiers say that enough time remains to fine-tune their skills and get them ready for 2014, there remain questions about the ability of some Afghan soldiers.
At a recent training, an Afghan Army sergeant told of losing a friend who tried to remove a roadside bomb by taking several steps back and shooting at it with his rifle until it exploded and killed him.
“Prior to this [American] unit operating here, this Afghan National Army unit was really in a defensive fight to hold its own position and wasn’t really afforded the position to get much better,” says Lt. Col. William Ryan, security forces assistance team leader for the 2-504 PIR, who likens the Afghan military to a sports team without an off-season. “The contribution of the [the US Army] has … allowed the Afghan National Army to take time that it needs to get better.”