US repositions troops in eastern Afghanistan

The Associated Press
Monday, February 28, 2011; 1:11 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. military will start carrying out more counterterrorism missions against insurgents in eastern Afghanistan and work more closely with Pakistani forces in operations against insurgents along the porous and rugged frontier, the U.S. general commanding the region said.

Maj. Gen. John Campbell, commander of NATO coalition forces in eastern Afghanistan, said he has been repositioning some of his troops since last August to make them more effective in the region that borders Pakistan. The area has seen an upsurge in violence and is a main route for insurgents infiltrating into Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions.

The realignment of troops will allow more force to be used against insurgents and shore up security along a key trade route from Pakistan to the Afghan capital.

"As we realign forces it does give me the ability to provide additional forces in other areas," Campbell said in a weekend interview with The Associated Press.

One of the most significant moves is the reduction of U.S. troops in bases along the remote Pech River Valley- a rugged and mountainous area in Kunar province near the Pakistani border that has seen fierce fighting in recent years.

Campbell said the forward operating bases and remote combat outposts in the valley did not provide the flexibility needed to use the forces more effectively.

"You know there are thousands of mountainous isolated valleys out there where we don't have forces and so I can't be everywhere and I just have to prioritize the resources," he said.

Pech and the neighboring Korangal Valley have been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the nearly 10-year-old Afghan war. U.S. troops pulled out of Korangal just over a year ago, saying that it was not strategically important. Forty-two Americans died in Korangal before the troops pulled out.

"I don't want people to think that we are abandoning Pech, we are not doing that. We are going to be able to go in there a lot more," Campbell said. "I am taking forces that were static at positions ... and providing them the flexibility to be able to do (counterterrorism)-type operations."

The move indicates the U.S.-led military coalition will be further stepping up its counter-terror operations - aimed at killing and capturing militants - ahead of the traditional spring fighting season. Such operations allow NATO forces to target senior Taliban and al-Qaida leaders.

By shifting resources, the military will still be able to follow the other main part of its strategy - counterinsurgency. The goal is to clear the enemy out of a particular territory, then focus on holding and developing it to win over the local Afghan population.

U.S. troops in the Pech River Valley will be replaced by Afghan army or police forces, many of whom have been partnered with American soldiers in the region. The Afghan army has also been reinforcing its troops in the region, Campbell said.

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