Expelling the Taliban: No Easy Task for U.S. Soldiers

The mammoth battle for Kandahar will test soldiers' basic fighting skills by combining tactics learned from the trenches of World War I, the close-quarter fighting of World War II, the jungle-like conditions of Vietnam and the urban warfare of Iraq.

The hardest fighting will be along a long narrow swath of Kandahar province hugging the Arghendab River. The goal is to expel the Taliban from its command and control stronghold, thereby cutting the southern part of the country in two -- severing the Taliban communications and transportation corridor between Helmand Province and the city of Kandahar.

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To accomplish the job, a massive of force of 30,000 to 35,000 U.S., Afghan and international troops have been mobilized. Kandahar city will be flooded with Afghan and U.S. military police, 16 checkpoints around the city have been erected and a system of cameras is planned.

But the real fight will be in fertile suburbs just west of the city.

Taliban strongholds in the districts of Arghendab, Zhari and Panjway will draw special attention and the bulk of the forces. The districts run from the north to the southwest of Kandahar city.

The Taliban was born in the region and raised on a steady diet of insurrection against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. Despite nine years of the U.S.-led war, the Taliban has retained its grip on the lush farmland along the Arghendab River.

The river is a deadly divide. On its south side, U.S., Canadian and Afghan forces enjoy relative freedom of movement and are beginning the long process of building governance by working with locals and the nascent district and provincial governments. The north side of the river is Taliban country.

Sengaray, the Zhari district's largest town with a population of approximately 10,000, lies about 15 miles west of Kandahar city. Soldiers of Alpha and Delta companies of the 1st Brigade, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division have been on the ground here less than two months and already are getting a taste of the fight ahead.

Sgt. Kenneth Kimbley from Livingston, Texas, only 20 years old and already on his second combat tour, said the soldiers' reception in the area lacks a certain southern hospitality.

"They really aren't that welcoming," he said in a deep Texas drawl. "The kids are always throwing rocks at us when we are on patrol and the adults throw grenades."

Grenades, thrown from short range, have become the latest weapon of choice for insurgents. In the last two weeks, more than a dozen old-style pineapple grenades have been lobbed over enormous mud walls at U.S. patrols as they move through Sengaray's maze-like streets and walkways.

A dozen or more soldiers have been injured. For about half of them, their wounds are so severe that they are now out of the fight and are returning home.

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In a recent violent exchange, soldiers from Alpha Company were so close to Taliban fighters that both sides were throwing grenades at each other. Several insurgents were killed. There were no injuries among Alpha Company.

The fight for Kandahar is described as a "rising tide of security" as opposed to an all-out single offensive like that launched by Marines in Marja in Helmand Province in February.

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