News: Deep in the heart of Taliban country - The first story of a three part series on the actions of Task Force Arctic Wolves to root out Taliban from the Horn of Panjwa’i
Story by Staff Sgt. Lindsey Kibler
COMBAT OUTPOST LION, Afghanistan - Somewhere in the vast terrain between Panjwa’i and Zharay is the birthplace of known Taliban leader Mullah Omar; the area has been a launch pad for insurgent activity and home to Taliban safe houses.
In the western tip of the Horn of Panjwa’i lies Do’ab, where Taliban activity has become a way of life for the villagers and farmers.
“Do’ab is a historic insurgent engagement area. It is the last piece of terrain in the area that allows the enemy freedom of movement,” said Maj. Jimmy Kleager, operations officer with 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment “Gimlets,” 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
Since the beginning of the war, the area had been under control of the Canadian army, said Kleager, a Scottsbluff, Neb., native. In July, as the Canadians departed, elements of 1st SBCT, 25th Infantry Division settled into the area. The Canadians put great effort into building roads within Panjwa’i. The goal was to expand security and boost the economy. However, they did not venture into the tip of the horn or into Do’ab.
Do’ab would be a pivotal for two reasons, Kleager explained.
First, by constructing and expanding roads throughout the village, farmers would have a safer, more direct route to larger cities. Villagers have been using rugged trails, only the width of one donkey-led cart, as a way to get to and from Do’ab.
“Building a road through Do’ab would have a tremendous effect on access to and from the village. It would economically benefit the locals by allowing access to Kandahar, where their crops and produce, like grapes, bring more of a profit,” added Kleager.
In addition, the return on grapes and other produce will provide an alternative to harvesting marijuana.
“The road will allow the farmers to bring crops to the market, and allow them to expand their profits beyond drug crops, providing the area with an agricultural boost,” said 1st Sgt. Jeff Peppin, Company A, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 1st SBCT, 25th Infantry Division.
Second, by having a troop presence in the area, the Taliban would face challenges while attempting to place improvised explosive devices.
“By moving into the tip of the Horn of Panjwa’i, the furthest west anyone has been, we can take away the last piece of terrain where the enemy has freedom of movement,” said Kleager.
Not only would enemy terrain be taken away, the soldiers in the area would be able to talk with the local villagers on a regular basis.
Building and establishing a presence would not be easy, though, as the area was laden with IEDs. IEDs pose a threat to local villagers and troops in the area, according to Spc. Joshua Rinker, an intelligence analyst with Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment.
“IEDs, in particular pressure plate IEDs, are the biggest threat in Do’ab,” said Rinker, a Richmond, Va., native. “When the Taliban moved into this area, they placed them everywhere— not just along the road, but in compounds and orchards throughout the village.”
With the fear of the unknown, villagers were wary of harvesting their crops, Kleager said.
“It got to the point where the locals were actually leaving their homes, their crops and the village altogether because they feared for their lives,” said Rinker.
Knowing what they would be up against, the battalion enlisted the help of Afghan National Army in the area and prepared to head into Do’ab.The goal of the combined effort, Kleager said, is to bring stability to the area and, in turn, boost the economy.
By September, the Gimlets, along with ANA engineers, broke ground and the transformation from Taliban stronghold to an active farming village began.
For photos related to this series see the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division FLICKR page at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/1-25_sbct/sets/72157627856388923/
This work, Deep in the heart of Taliban country - The first story of a three part series on the actions of Task Force Arctic Wolves to root out Taliban from the Horn of Panjwa’i, by SSG Lindsey Kibler, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.