By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2011 - Cooperation among troops from many nations and the reintegration into Afghan society of a growing number of war-weary insurgents are adding to success in northern Afghanistan, the commander of Regional Command North said today.
German army Maj. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz and his deputy commander, U.S. Army Col. Sean Mulholland, briefed reporters at the Pentagon during a video teleconference from their headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif.
"I think the influence of the Taliban is diminishing, definitely," Fritz said.
"They are leaving the area. If they don't leave, they are killed. They are handing themselves over to us ... by the reintegration program. So they are simply giving up," he added, noting that the "security bubble" around Kunduz and Baghlan provinces and further west is permanently expanding.
The 11,000 troops of Regional Command North include Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, Hungarians and Turks. U.S. forces are based in the area as part of the Afghan army and police training effort. The regional command is using special operations forces in shaping operations before conventional troops enter the area, Mulholland said, "and we've had great success winning the hearts and minds of civilians once the conventional forces have gone in."
"We've been able to hold large expanses of terrain and also build COPs -- combat outposts -- and [forward operating bases] to secure and anchor those areas that have been gained through the winter time," he added.
As an adjunct to that, Mulholland said, the Afghan Peace and Reconciliation Program has taken off in Regional Command North as people have decided to side with the Afghan government or simply don't want to fight any more.
The reconciliation program is one of two the regional command offers, Fritz said. The other is the Afghan Local Police program.
"The reconciliation program allows them, after they've been forgiven [by their communities] and enrolled in the program, the opportunity for vocational training," Mulholland said. "While they're going to training, they receive a stipend of $88 a month to keep food on the table."
When applicants sign into the reconciliation program, Mulholland said, they are vetted by the local police and the provincial chief of police and are forgiven by the people from their village. The program allows them to learn one of several vocations, such as teaching. It also allows them, if they meet legal requirements, to join the Afghan Local Police.
"The ALP is actually a job," Mulholland said. "It's a program they can stay enrolled in for two to five years."
Both programs, he added, "are good alternatives to what they're doing now."
All applicants for both programs must register, must agree to live by the Afghan constitution and Afghan law, and must accept the Afghan government's authority.
The regional command monitors an area that has experienced a growth in Taliban activity along with an increase in combat troops. The U.S. Army's 4th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, and the 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team from Fort Drum, N.Y., Fritz said, serve in the area along with two German battle groups.
An example of the close working relationships among the diverse troops occurred in October, Fritz said, during a day of fierce fighting.
"A suicider attacked a German position -- these were paratroopers from my division in Germany," he said. The suicide attacker killed one German soldier and wounded many more. The troops called for medical evacuation, and two U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from Fort Campbell, Ky., answered the call.
"As we say in German, there was a lot of iron in the air," Fritz said.
The helicopters recovered the wounded and took off, he said, then the crews realized a dead German soldier remained on the ground.
"They came back under fire, they recovered the soldier and they said, 'We are taking home a fallen hero," Fritz said. "And I can promise you, the German paratroopers, the German 'Fallschirmjager,' will never forget that. This is the quality of cooperation we are talking about."
Fritz said his regional command has momentum against the Taliban and aims to keep it.
"If we can," he added, "we will fight the winter through to make sure that all the foxholes are closed when one or the other of the Taliban might come back in, in spring."
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