ARGHANDAB DISTRICT, Afghanistan - Less than a year ago, the Arghandab valley was the most dangerous place in Afghanistan. The Soviets used to call the Arghandab River Valley “The Heart of Darkness.” It’s where Mullah Omar first formed the Taliban in 1994 and it’s where the famous Battle of Arghandab was fought in 2008. Today, despite some long-suffering Taliban holdouts, the valley is a peaceful place. At least it is in the village of Kvahjeh Molk. This is due in large part to the partnering and mentoring efforts of the brave warriors of Company A, 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment.
Through partnering with the local Afghan Uniformed Police force and the Afghan Local Police, the village and the surrounding countryside serve as a model for what can be achieved when Afghanistan’s National Security Forces take the lead throughout the country. In Kvahjeh Molk, a small community on the banks of the mighty Arghandab River, the bustling bazaar and scores of children running the streets are the image of what a peaceful Afghanistan can look like.
When U.S. forces patrol towards the village, they are greeted along the way by smiling, laughing children asking for candy and, surprisingly, for pens. Staff Sgt. Adam Marzan, a squad leader who has been deployed to the region for almost a year, laughed about their relationship with the kids.
“They swarm us,” he said. “Some of them will follow us on patrols for five or six kilometers. They never get tired.” This is a good sign, because if there was any threat of violence, parents would keep the children away.
As the patrols get closer to town, soon enough, the Americans are met on the street by local security forces, eager to share recent advances in security, or to sit down for a cup of tea and proudly boast of the safety in their town.
“The AUP and the ALP perform well here,” said Marzan. “They are competent and they are willing to work.”
First Lt. Jerel Bartholomew, a platoon leader with Company A, has regular conversations with the citizens who desperately want to make a difference in their community.
“Right now, there are two guys who want to be the Malik [tribal leader],” said Bartholomew. “We are neutral, but we’re helping bring them to the table to discuss the issues. In the past, something like this would have been a shootout.”
A company of soldiers from the Afghan National Army live on COP Jannat alongside the Americans, but if they sound conspicuously absent from this story, it’s because in Arghandab they operate completely independently.
“We very rarely patrol with them,” said Capt. John Lorme, Company A commander. “Sometimes we will observe or provide security and blocking on the roads while they patrol, but they pretty much do it by themselves.”
All of these examples just serve to demonstrate the fact that ANSF, are independently providing security and stability in the Arghandab district. Once upon a time, Afghans and Americans were fighting and dying together in Arghandab district. Those days are gone. As the 2014 deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal inches closer, many people fear that once coalition forces leave, the Taliban will sweep back into power overnight on the backs of Afghan forces unable to stem the tide. To know whether the Afghans will be able to keep the peace, one need look no further than this tiny little village overlooking Afghanistan's most famous river.
“They’re good,” said Bartholomew. “They do it all without us. I’m sure when we leave; they’ll keep doing it just the same.”