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Afghanistan's success lies in the civilian population

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 15 February 2010

While Nato forces make steady progress in one of the biggest offensives against the Taliban Colonel Richard Kemp writes that winning hearts and minds is key to rebuilding control.

US Marines protect Afghan civilians

Colonel Richard Kemp is the former commander of British troops in Afghanistan.

So far Operation Moshtarak has gone to plan.

There was little resistance from the Taliban during the massive insertion by helicopters and armoured vehicles or the initial phases of clearance.

That was to be expected. The Taliban do not have the capability to react immediately to such an offensive - even with the clear warnings they received that an attack was coming their way.

The reported decapitation of their leadership - 50 commanders were apparently taken out by special forces - will also have blunted the enemy's capabilities.

But as our troops establish forward operating bases and begin patrolling and meeting the locals, the Taliban will be watching carefully - from the cover of the civilian population.

When they understand the scale and pattern of our activity they will try to strike back. They will use improvised explosive devices, mines and booby traps.

They will also try out hit and run sniping, machine gun and rocket attacks. And we can expect them to attempt suicide strikes against troops, bases and civilians.

Our forces are ready for them and will be working to disrupt the attacks and kill the enemy fighters.

The key to successful defence against these attacks is intelligence provided by local people.

To gain this it is vital that our soldiers and their Afghan allies rapidly win their trust and support. Important will be the rapid establishment of district governors and local community councils to represent the people.

Governors are likely to be brought in within days and councils will be set up soon after that.

These bodies will begin to coordinate reconstruction and development projects. Some will start very soon to show the population that life under the dispensation of the Kabul government, backed by Nato, will be better than under the Taliban.

Even more important is demonstrating that the new order will bring with it safety and security.

The deaths of 12 civilians caused by a US guided missile that accidentally veered off course did not help.

Despite this tragedy early reports of local attitudes are encouraging. But the greatest fear to be overcome is that Afghan and Nato forces will withdraw and the Taliban take back control - as has happened before.

The locals know that punishment for cooperation with the "infidel" can be torture and death for them and their family.

We have got to convince the people that we are here for the long haul and that we can protect them.

The Taliban will be intent on proving the opposite - with the blood of the locals as well as of Nato and Afghan soldiers and police.

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