Battle for Kandahar: If Afghan Gov't Doesn't Improve, 'We're Going to Lose'

Capt. Casey Thoreen Builds Fragile Afghan Model

ByABC News
May 26, 2010, 4:33 PM

MAIWAND, Afghanistan, May 27, 2010 -- Gone are the burned-out trucks that used to litter this poppy-filled district of Kandahar. Gone are the bribes the former district governor used to extract from local farmers. Gone, too, are the bombs on the main highway, the beatings at the local jail, even some of the fear that used to prevent local elders from working with U.S. troops.

Maiwand district, just west of Kandahar City, has improved dramatically in the past year since the United States sent a battalion of soldiers here, enough to bring a shaky peace and stand up a weak government.

But U.S. commanders know their successes are fragile. As their tour comes to a close, they admit that the local government is frail and under-resourced. And, in some areas, the Taliban still roam freely at night, threatening the local population.

The commanders warn that the relatively slow pace of achievement -- in bringing both governance and security -- should be heeded by their higher-ups, who have to show quick progress as they send thousands of additional troops to Kandahar as part of the largest campaign of the war.

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"We've set a good foundation, but if we left tomorrow, it would take three weeks for all of it to come undone," says Capt. Casey Thoreen, the popular company commander based in Maiwand's district headquarters.

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If his Blackwatch company abandoned its base, which is adjacent to a new U.S.-funded police and government complex, the Afghan Army soldiers would go into hiding and the district governor would drive "as fast as possible" to the relative safety of Kandahar City, he says.

"And the only reason it would take that long," the West Point graduate says with a sigh, "is because it would take a week for everyone to notice we left."

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Commanders say Thoreen, the self-proclaimed son of "ex-hippies from Seattle," is too hard on himself. They heap praise on the 30-year-old for nurturing the district governor, Obaidullah Bawari, from a virtually absent leader to someone known across the district.