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Combat Generation: Trying to work with an Afghan insurgent

U.S. commanders are learning that victory in today's wars is less a matter of destroying enemies than of knowing how and when to make them allies.

"So, should we work with him?" Brown pressed.

"At the present time we have no other choice," Youssef recalled saying. "We really need him."

An American telephone

After the attack on Combat Outpost Keating, Brown and the local Taliban leadership went through similar rituals.

Brown had petitioned the top brass in Afghanistan to close Keating two months before the attack, and family members wanted to know why it had taken senior commanders so long to approve the U.S. withdrawal. U.S. troops left Kamdesh a few days after the battle.

"We should know the names of the officers who made the decisions," the mother of one of the dead soldiers told the Philadelphia Inquirer in late February. "They should feel the pain that we feel."

Brown had little to offer in the way of solace. Most of the dead men's possessions had been destroyed in the attack. His troops gathered up what they could -- a prized Yankees cap, a watch, a wallet, a pair of broken eyeglasses -- and shipped them to the families.

The Taliban faced similar questions from angry fathers who demanded to know why their sons had been ordered to storm a base that the Americans were leaving. More than 75 local fighters had been killed in the battle. U.S. intelligence officials tracked the two top Taliban commanders in the area, Dost Mohammed and Haji Usman, as they attended funerals and made payments to grieving families.

The Taliban and Sadiq had long competed for the allegiance of fighters in Kamdesh, and the U.S. withdrawal heightened the split. Sadiq wanted to allow long-stalled development projects to resume. The Taliban vowed to attack such efforts as part of a campaign to discredit the Afghan government.

The two groups exchanged emissaries and argued. "I am not supporting the U.S.," Sadiq told the Taliban, according to his brother-in-law. "There are no Americans in Kamdesh. I am supporting myself, my village and my people."

In December, the Americans gave Sadiq a few thousand dollars to organize meetings with the Kamdesh elders, and an Afghan official passed him some guns. As a gesture of good faith, Sadiq sent a photo of himself using a U.S.-supplied satellite phone.

In a 2002 picture taken by U.S. commandos, Sadiq had dark, piercing eyes and a chiseled face. By 2010, he was older and grayer, with softer features.

Every few nights, one of Sadiq's deputies telephoned Brown to work out the terms of the deal. By March, the insurgent commander had assembled an informal police force of about 230 locals, some of whom had probably taken part in the Keating attack. Brown arranged for the United States to pay the men about $25,000 a month until the Interior Ministry formally accepted them as police.

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