ISW in Brief: Making Progress in Maiwand District, Kandahar

by Spencer Butts

January 26, 2012

ISW recently published a backgrounder on operations and progress in Maiwand District, Kandahar. You can download and read the full publication here.

Kandahar province is the home of President Karzai, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, and the former de facto capital of the Taliban government. In mid-2010, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) launched Hamkari, a series of operations in Kandahar designed to deprive Taliban forces of militarily key terrain and strengthen the province’s local governance and development. ISAF’s increased combat power in Hamkari enabled U.S. units to hold the key terrain through the winter season and implement programs to secure local support while undercutting the Taliban’s ability to re-infiltrate and intimidate the local population.

Prior to the launch of Hamkari, U.S. and Canadian operations were conducted for short-term gains, as the units lacked the sufficient manpower to hold them for long periods. Insurgents had consistent access to the population which allowed them to intimidate locals and compromise the government’s effectiveness.  Before Hamkari, a dearth of civil service leadership and a lack of basic services permitted the Taliban to supplant the local government. 

In December 2009, the U.S. government authorized an influx of 30,000 additional troops, some of whom deployed to Kandahar under Regional Command (RC) South divisional headquarters.  Beginning in mid-2010, U.S. forces in Hamkari secured Kandahar City and began kinetic operations in the central districts. Insurgents typically moved east and west through farmland along the Arghandab River and used Maiwand district to regroup and stage attacks into neighboring Zhari and Panjwai districts. Units of 2nd brigade combat team (BCT) of the 101st Airborne Division constructed an eight-kilometer wall and established traffic control at its primary crossing points to disrupt the Taliban’s movement and kinetic operations. ISAF also began conducting raids against Taliban leadership. In November 2010, the U.S. 10th Mountain Division assumed responsibility for Kandahar Province and divided the province between the division’s three brigade combat teams. The 3rd BCT arrived in April 2011 and Task Force Dreadnaught (2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, or 2-34 AR) was assigned to Maiwand district.

The defeat of insurgent forces in Maiwand played a critical role in enabling the Afghan government to accept increasing security responsibilities, provide basic services to their populations, and begin restoring the government’s legitimacy. The increased manpower allowed Task Force Dreadnaught to expand security from Highway 1 into previously uncontrolled territory, especially around the main population base of Hutal. 2-34 AR conducted route-clearing missions and daily patrols, and increased security in Hutal around the Maiwand district center, bazaar, and a nearby school. They established a vocational center for women and girls, maintained a strong presence around the bazaar, and created a secure compound by the school for a playground.  In 2-34 AR’s deployment, insurgents carried out only one attack in the district. U.S. personnel mentored Maiwand District Governor Obaidullah Bawari and assisted him with creating work and development programs. Bawari also enlisted the assistance of local elders, strengthening the bond between local communities and the district government.

The counterinsurgency campaign in Maiwand illustrates the progression of security outward from Kandahar City to its surrounding areas. Operations in Maiwand and other, more remote districts are essential to compromising insurgents’ ability to sustain attacks on Kandahar City at the same frequency by pushing them into areas away from the city. The density of coalition forces involved, however, remains less than what the more populated central districts required. Although ANSF units have taken on many responsibilities for bringing Maiwand under government control, they have required close partnering and support from coalition forces. While ANSF control over areas surrounding Kandahar City and outlying districts reduces the insurgency’s prospects of regenerating itself, it remains unclear whether coalition and ANSF forces can sustain the defense of the Kandahar’s outer loop as international troop levels fall over the course of 2012.

Spencer Butts is a Research Assistant at ISW.