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Panjwai residents battle Taliban
by Staff Writers
Kabul, Afghanistan (UPI) Feb 13, 2013

US commander backed troop drawdown: Panetta
Washington (AFP) Feb 12, 2013 - President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw 34,000 US troops from Afghanistan within a year was based on the advice of former commander General John Allen, Pentagon chief Leon Panetta said Tuesday.

The Pentagon chief said he welcomed Obama's announcement in his State of the Union address on the decision sharply reduce American forces, which make up about two thirds of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.

"This plan to continue drawing down our forces in a phased approach over the coming year was recommended by General Allen based on a thorough assessment of the ISAF campaign plan moving forward," Panetta said in a statement.

The defense secretary's comments appeared aimed at countering criticism from some Republicans in Congress that Obama has allegedly ignored military advice and crafted withdrawal plans based on political considerations.

On Sunday, Allen officially handed command of ISAF to General Joseph Dunford, who is expected to be the last US commander in Afghanistan as Western countries prepare to depart by the end of 2014, when NATO's mission ends.

The war effort is on a promising path "to achieve the goal of this campaign - to deny Al-Qaeda a safe haven to attack our homeland," said Panetta, who is due to retire within days pending the Senate's confirmation of his nominated successor, former senator Chuck Hagel.

With NATO planning to hand over to Afghan forces in 2014, Panetta said the coalition troops "are on track for that goal."

He also said the United States "will maintain a long-term commitment to Afghanistan -- including through the continued training and equipping of Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations against Al-Qaeda and their affiliates."

The troop drawdown schedule presented by Obama reflects the best military advice at the Pentagon and in Afghanistan, defense officials said.

"The commanders will have discretion on the pace" of the withdrawal and the "focus will be keeping as many forces in play until after the fighting season" ends in the autumn, said a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Under Obama's plan, the current US force of roughly 66,000 would be scaled back by half within 12 months, to about 32,000.

In 2009, Obama ordered in a surge of more than 30,000 reinforcements, bringing the American presence to a peak of about 100,000 boots on the ground.

Residents in Afghanistan's Kandahar province are battling Taliban militants with the latest clashes representing an ongoing campaign by locals against the Taliban.

The skirmishes are significant because Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban movement and Taliban leader Mullah Omar established his base there.

Kandahar provincial citizens say that they have killed at least three Taliban militants in the latest round of clashes in the district.

Abdul Wadood, one of the resistance organizers, stated that the Panjwai district residents started fighting against the Taliban militants after inhabitants of Chahar Qaria area were mistreated and tortured by Taliban militants.

In a further indication of the depth of the resistance, Panjwai district chief Fazal Mohammad Ishaq said that he supports the residents' fight against Taliban militants and that the local government is prepared to assist the local fighters, Khamaa Press newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Taliban have yet to comment on the report.

Public uprising against the Taliban militants started from Andar district of eastern Ghazni province and later expanded to the southern regions of the country.

The residents aren't alone, as on Feb. 8 the U.S. Defense Department reported that a NATO International Security Assistance Force, in conjunction with units from the Afghan National Army combined operation force in Kandahar's Panjwai district, arrested a Taliban leader who operated out of central Kandahar city, believed to be responsible for organizing bombing operations targeting Afghan and coalition forces, along with detaining two other suspected insurgents.

Afghan media reports state that injured Afghan government spy chief Asadullah Khalid has been active in supportive in backing anti-Taliban uprisings in insurgent-held areas of eastern Afghanistan.

Public uprisings in Afghan provinces such as Kandahar are increasing concerns among Afghan parliamentary members and other government officials, who are concerned that the clashes will lead to serious security challenges in the future for the Afghan government.

In the interim, ISAF forces are attempting to win hearts and kinds by supporting infrastructure projects. As electricity remains a scare resource in Kandahar city, four separate projects designed to improve electricity distribution in key areas of the city are scheduled for completion this year. ISAF Regional Command-South is overseeing the projects.

"Regional Command-South's goal with these projects is to connect Afghan Government District Centers to the Kandahar City power grid, which is a sustainable power source, said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Bensburg, who oversees RC-South's Stability Division.

"When we get that done we will have achieved one of RC-South's decisive points. The four projects will make use of completion kits currently stored by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kandahar City, which is another plus because the selected contractor will have access to many materials immediately."

Bensburg said that once USACE awarded electric improvement projects "we were able to develop a plan for erecting and connecting distribution lines in key areas of Kandahar to those main transmission lines being rehabilitated by USACE in its projects."


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Obama sets sights on exit from Afghanistan war
Washington (AFP) Feb 12, 2013
President Barack Obama's announcement to withdraw half the US force in Afghanistan shows his determination to end the war, but leaves open the question of long-term American support for Kabul. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama unveiled plans to scale back American forces from 66,000 to 32,000 within 12 months, as part of a long-standing goal by Washington and its allies to ... read more

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