In Kandahar, the Taliban Own the Night

The lack of a strong government in Kandahar radiates outside of the city, where the Taliban have launched a successful campaign against tribal leaders who had been providing local security in many Kandahar districts.

Without strong tribal structures, the Taliban were able to move into areas and create their own shadow court system that local residents have no choice but to use – simply because the government was providing no alternative.

"Success in this country depends on the connection between the people and the government," a Western official in Kandahar said. "And right now, that connection doesn't exist."

That connection can be facilitated by better security, which U.S. officials argue will come after thousands of additional troops deploy to the edge of the city.

"Today, the number of troops is not sufficient to the size of the population," a Western official in Kandahar said.

In the past, the official said foreign forces would clear an area, but would then have to leave and the Taliban would return.

If the West does not "generate sufficient force densities in critical areas, its attempted counteroffensive will fail, giving enemy fighters a permissive environment and allowing the Taliban's campaign of terror to continue in Kandahar City," concluded a recent report from the Institute for the Study of War.

Providing security from the Taliban does not only come from additional troops. To receive the intelligence they will need to target the Taliban, troops and the Afghan police will have to earn the trust of the population.

"The militants' ability to move throughout the city is there, and we can't stop that. So what we have to do is get the local populace to identify the outsiders," argued Capt. Thurman. "And until we get the populace to actually give us that intelligence, we will never get to the point where we're going to win the counterinsurgency battle."

Thurman told the story of a recent foot patrol with the Afghan police through a market, as close as these troops can get to "walking a beat."

"A local elder came up to me and said it was the first time in five years that he'd seen a foreign soldier on the ground, out of their vehicles," Thurman remembered.

Thurman argues that foreign troops in Kandahar had failed to properly engage with the local population. They ride around in their armored trucks and they don't get out as often as they should, he said.

And that creates a divide between the people and the men who are supposed to be their protectors. Because the people of Kandahar have no armor against deteriorating security.

"We've got a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it in," Thurman said. "What we've been doing in Kandahar is not working."

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