Taliban Fighters Seek Reintegration, Officers Say

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2010 - Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan are tired of fighting U.S. and international forces and are looking to reintegrate back into society, the top military commanders of the NATO International Security Assistance Force element in the region said today.

Maj. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz of the German army, commander of the International Security Assistance Force's Regional Command North, and his deputy, U.S. Army Col. Sean Mulholland, briefed Pentagon reporters today in a video news conference from their headquarters in Afghanistan.

NATO troops in the region appear to have the upper hand, Mulholland said, underscoring the progress and success of their Afghan partnerships. These efforts, he added, are limiting the Taliban's resources and have helped to diminish their will to fight.

Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan are working with limited supplies, indicating to U.S. and international forces there that extremists possibly are conceding defeat.

"What I see with the Taliban is that their resources are finite," Mulholland said. "Our forces, with our partners, are going after a lot of the supply lines, the rat lines that come through [Regional Command] North.

In many areas, a tipping point appears near for Taliban fighters who are thinking about giving up, the colonel added.

One of Mulholland's responsibilities as deputy commander involves talking about reintegration issues with Taliban in the region. Many are weary of fighting, he said.

"I deal with a lot of issues where we talk to the Taliban that don't want to fight anymore," he said. "And I get a better sense from former fighters that they're tired of fighting."

Some fighters remain opposed to giving up, he said, but they are mostly senior Taliban and extremist leaders. "There are Taliban that will never change their path," he explained. "Those are hard targets that will never change their opinion about fighting ISAF and trying to disrupt the Afghan government. However, [with] the mid-level fighters, there are many opportunities to persuade them. As we get it better with governance and development and security up here, ... there are many opportunities to persuade them to take another path."

The local populace also is growing weary of the violence and fighting, Fritz said.

"Talking to the people in the villages, my impression is these people are war-tired," the general said. "What they want to have is a little bit of peace. They want to have security. And they want to see their children growing up."

The main goal of coalition and Afghan troops in the north is to bring down the level of violence, Fritz said. Violence did spike during the summer, as it did throughout much of the country, but troops are hopeful about the future, he added.

Fritz commands about 11,000 troops from 16 nations. All have faced harsh combat in recent months, but that is due to the increased footprint of coalition troops, which are "provoking" Taliban actions, he said.

"It's been tough fighting," he said. "The Taliban, they are serious enemies. On the other hand, I must say that our troops are doing very, very well. They are highly motivated. They are a good partner. We are one team."

Germany recently increased the number of its troops in Afghanistan to 5,000. Fritz said his nation will be involved in Afghanistan as long as they are needed.

There is no reason to expect German troops to withdraw forces, Fritz said. He added that he expects no change in NATO or U.S. troop levels or their mission in the near future, he said.

"I can tell you that cooperation between all of us is so close, it couldn't be closer," the general said. "I can only say I am very, very optimistic that we are on the right track and things are getting better."

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