Counterinsurgency in Kandahar: Evaluating the 2010 Hamkari Campaign

To download the PDF, click here. Download the email optimized version here.

Executive Summary

  •  This paper describes the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan counteroffensive in Kandahar province during the summer and fall of 2010. This counteroffensive was part of the broader Hamkari process, the term given to the combined civil-military campaign to weaken the insurgency by securing Kandahar and improving governance and development.
  • Coalition military operations in the fall of 2010 resulted in a shift in battlefield momentum in Kandahar in favor of Afghan and ISAF forces.
  • Kandahar is strategic terrain because it is the heart of the Pashtun south, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, the former de facto capital of the Taliban government, and the home of President Karzai.  Contesting Kandahar is important for Taliban’s attempts to appear a viable rival to the Afghan government.
  • Three important districts surround Kandahar city to its north and west: Arghandab, Zhari, and Panjwai.  These districts are key terrain for the Taliban.
  • Taliban control of these districts enabled the insurgency to operate effective attack networks, limit ISAF freedom of movement, and successfully control or influence the population.
  • Insufficient troop strength from 2005 to 2009 limited ISAF’s ability to target and destroy these enemy strongholds.
  • In 2010, ISAF assigned a portion of the surge forces committed to Afghanistan in December 2009 to Kandahar and transferred several U.S. Army battalions to Kandahar from elsewhere in Afghanistan, enabling ISAF to conduct effective clearing operations.
  • ISAF conducted extensive shaping operation in Kandahar prior to launching clearing operations.  Special Forces raids in particular had an impact on the Taliban’s command and control.
  • Phase One of Hamkari involved military operations to increase security in Kandahar City.   These included the construction of a ring of security checkpoints along major roads entering and leaving the city.
  • Phase Two of Hamkari focused on clearing Arghandab district.  Arghandab is key terrain for the enemy because of its location as the gateway into Kandahar City and because of thick vegetation and tree cover, and has been a center for IED production.
  • Afghan and ISAF operations in Arghandab began on July 25, 2010 and targeted the Taliban’s strongholds in west-central Arghandab, near the towns of Khosrawe and Charqolba.
  • Coalition forces breached Taliban defensive positions and IED belts and cleared insurgent positions in west-central Arghandab at the beginning of October 2010.  After the October assault the remaining Taliban forces withdrew from Arghandab.
  • Coalition forces launched Operation Dragon Strike in September 2010 to dismantle the enemy system in Zhari.  The operation seized enemy strongholds and weapons and supplies stockpiles.
  • By mid-October, U.S. and Afghan forces had taken key Taliban positions and movement corridors in eastern and central Zhari, neutralizing the enemy system and forcing insurgents to withdraw.
  • Coalition operations in Zhari also neutralized the enemy attack network along Highway One.  In the first 28 days of October 2010 there were no kinetic incidents on the stretch of highway passing through Zhari, a change from early September when the Taliban were conducting five or more attacks a day.
  • The last phase of Hamkari seized the towns of Zangabad, Mushan, and Talukan in Panjwai district during October and November 2010.  These towns were the final insurgent strongholds in central Kandahar, and served as command and control nodes and the hub of the Taliban’s court system for Zhari and Panjwai.
  • In Arghandab and eastern and central Zhari, Taliban control of the population began to decline shortly after the conclusion of ISAF clearing operations.
  • Many of the fighters in Arghandab, Zhari, and Panjwai laid down their arms when it became clear the Taliban could not resist ISAF assaults.  Some joined ISAF cash-for-work programs, which grew from several dozen workers to between 4,000 and 6,000 Afghans a day in Zhari.
  • After Hamkari, the Taliban will likely attempt a counter-offensive in the spring of 2011, but will suffer from the destruction of infrastructure, defensive positions and IED factories, and loss of supply stockpiles.
  • As clearing operations concluded, ISAF built tactical infrastructure to control former lines of communication and secure the local population.
  • To counter insurgent re-infiltration, ISAF commanders in Arghandab and Zhari plan to build local community watch programs and Afghan Local Police (ALP) forces.
  • In support of operations in Arghandab, Zhari, and Panjwai, ISAF and Afghan forces have conducted disruption operations and raids in Taliban support zones in outer Kandahar, including in Shah Wali Kot, Maiwand, and Spin Boldak districts and the Reg Desert.  
  • If ISAF can disrupt enemy activity in these areas, it may further complicate the Taliban’s attempts to regroup and to re-infiltrate key terrain around Kandahar City.  
  • Hamkari has involved the largest deployment of Afghan Security Forces in the current conflict.  ANA effectiveness in Hamkari varied significantly based on unit experience.
  • The Hamkari process is backed by a civil-military governance strategy supported by a civilian surge.  This strategy focuses on building the capacity of the Afghan government and on delivery of development assistance.  
  • Restoring the Afghan government’s legitimacy is ultimately an issue of altering public perception, and progress made in building government capacity will achieve little if overshadowed by perceptions of corruption and factional control over the Kandahar government.
  • Kandahar Governor Toryalai Wesa’s outsider status and the public perception that he is weak and dependent limit his effectiveness as the coalition’s chief governance partner.
  • Several powerbrokers seen as symbols of predatory and exclusive governance have become associated with the Hamkari operations.  Chief among these is border police commander Abdul Raziq.
  • The contracting economy in Kandahar undermines the Afghan government and creates perverse incentive structures that fuel instability.

 To read the entire report, click here. For the email optimized version, click here.

Additional Off-site Authors: