Cablegate: Reclaiming Arghandab: The Gateway to Kandahar

DE RUEHBUL #3737/01 3260305
R 220305Z NOV 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary. Kandahar's most pivotal district has a chance of
significantly improved governance because U.S. military and civilian
experts are on the ground at a district level, preparing the way for
Afghan government engagement and working to reverse years of
government neglect. Through a combination of continued development
programs, improvements in Afghan-led security, and new authorities
for the district governance, we can increase the prospect of keeping
the Taliban at bay in the Arghandab valley. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On November 15, Ambassador Eikenberry visited the District
Support Team (DST) and met with district leaders in Arghandab, a
district north of Kandahar along the fertile Arghandab river valley.
The DST is a model of civ-mil cooperation. It is supporting the
development of district governance, which is beginning to coalesce
in a manner that gives some hope to the area. Arghandab is a
district in the balance. Still far removed from the national
government and with little support from the Kandahar provincial
government, the fertile and scenic area is heavily contested by the
Taliban. Their chosen tactic has been assassinations designed to
weaken and divide the tribes. Arghandab is the temporary home of
Stryker Brigade 5/2, which has fought hard and suffered 22 killed in
action in 2009. Recent fragile progress shows USG and Afghan
efforts in Arghandab may turn out to be a model of how to build
district capacity to deliver security and welfare: the military
invited civilians to be part of the effort from the beginning;
USAID's Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI) staff were
integrated during the shape phase; innovative joint USG civ-mil
efforts have led to sustained, synchronized development programming
by USAID's AVIPA-plus agriculture voucher program and the Strategic
Provincial Roads program. These programs are augmenting ongoing OTI
and CERP activities at the district levels and are helping to build
an Afghan-led process. They should continue. Local leaders are
beginning to work together, building the government from the ground
up, as evident through the growing influence of the weekly shura
which is increasingly vocal about standing against the Taliban.

3. (SBU) District leader Haji Abdul Jabar recently visited Nagahan,
located on the west bank of the Arghandab river, formerly a no-go
zone. He attended the local shura to listen to grievances. This
visit led to elders from Nagahan attending the regular shura
meetings in Arghandab, including six at the most recent shura with
the Ambassador (see para 4). This is a major development as it
brings communities on the west bank of the river into the district's
governance. In the past month the Arghandab district center has
seen an increase in the number of constituents approaching the
district center with grievances, a positive development that
indicates public recognition of the district "government."

4. (SBU) The Ambassador met with a shura of 30-35 district leaders
during the visit to the DST. The Ambassador told participants that
U.S. and ISAF military and civilians were committed to working with
them on rule of law and development, and stressed that these were
key to local and national security. He said the United States had
made many sacrifices, including the loss of 20 soldiers and over 40
wounded in Arghandab. Now, it is time for the citizens of the
district to do their part to help their own community. We are
committed to this mission, but we need your help - we can't stay
forever, he told the shura. He informed the district leaders the
United States was committed to their security, but that we would
rather spend a billion dollars on development than on security.
"Please treat our soldiers like your own sons. If you do this, we
will fight with you."

5. (SBU) Tribal leader Karimullah (age 27) and the chief of police
were both present among the shura (comment: a good demonstration of
some level of unity; end comment). Shura leaders spoke out against
the Taliban, saying "if they take over, the whole area will
collapse." Some of the Taliban were locally recruited, but most
were from outside the area, they explained. The leaders admitted
the disorganization of the tribes had allowed the Taliban to gain
ground, but added that "tribes need protection." Shura participants
listed a number of priority needs including: road construction,
fruit processing companies, reopening of electricity and cell phone
towers, basic education and health services. People of the district
were disappointed by Kabul - "we need local people for local

Security Capacity Needs Focus
6. (SBU) ANSF capacity is weak in Arghandab. There is a
nine-to-one U.S. to ANA troop ratio. When the ANA conducts
operations, they bring only 20 to 40 troops, when they need over
100. There are three companies of ANA operating in the Arghandab
area of operation, but the overall commander is in Kandahar. The
82nd Airborne has begun police training, but there is still a severe
shortage of ANP.

7. (SBU) Arghandab DST staffing is currently one USAID/OTI officer,

KABUL 00003737 002 OF 002

one State Rep (Democracy and Governance), and a USFOR-A Civil
Affairs Team.

Extraordinary Measures From Kabul Also Needed
8. (SBU) Comment. In addition to security and development support
and engagement at the local level, district governments such as
Arghandab also need support from Kabul to build their capacities to
deliver. This would require extraordinary measures to take
advantage of a short window of opportunity: giving district
governments limited authorities to hire personnel and pay higher
wages with the goal of assembling 5-6 key ministry representatives
to deliver key services including dispute resolution. End Comment.


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