After Afghanistan visit, Gardner says new U.S. combat rules are thwarting Taliban

Author: Tom Roeder, The Gazette - April 30, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner met with top U.S. leaders in Afghanistan and spent time with Fort Carson’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team. (Courtesy Gardner’s office)

New rules of engagement in Afghanistan have Colorado soldiers better equipped to conquer Taliban fighters in the restive city of Kandahar, Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said minutes after returning home from a weekend visit to the war zone.

Gardner met with top U.S. leaders in Kabul and spent time with Fort Carson’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which is working to clear the Taliban from Kandahar, a key insurgent hub. The senator praised new rules that allow American troops more freedom to target enemies.

“They are talking about how the Taliban is facing elimination,” Gardner said. “The new authorities are allowing us to take the fight to them.”

President Donald Trump earlier this year said he would ease restrictions on American troops, clearing the way for them to take a more active role in fighting the Taliban. Old rules, in some cases, limited American troops to returning fire when they were engaged by the enemy.

The new rules allow Americans to track down and engage suspected insurgents, Gardner said.

“It is starting to work and take hold,” he said.

Gardner said 2nd Brigade’s soldiers are involved in missions to advise and assist Afghanistan army forces, and have a new role in securing Kandahar with more traditional combat measures.

Violence throughout Afghanistan ramped up over the weekend, with suicide bombers targeting government forces and journalists in Kabul. On Monday, a car bomb wounded at least eight Romanian NATO troops outside Kandahar.

Located in southwestern Afghanistan, Kandahar was the headquarters of resistance against Soviet invaders in the 1980s. Since the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the city of 500,000 residents has been the scene of repeated U.S. operations to take on its strong network of Taliban fighters.

“This was the heart of the Caliphate,” Gardner said.

With Taliban leaders feeling increased U.S. pressure, Fort Carson troops are preparing for a difficult summer.

“The Taliban are going to have to do something to change the dynamic,” Gardner said. “They are losing support and they are losing people.”

The Washington Post on Monday reported that President Donald Trump and Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul had several discussions about drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Gardner, though, said he saw no signs of slackening resolve among the Colorado troops.

“There’s a new level of confidence within American forces and there is a new level of confidence for the Afghanistan people as well,” Gardner said. “They can actually complete the fight.”

Fort Carson troops are surging into Afghanistan this year. In the coming weeks, Fort Carson’s 4,000-soldier 1st Brigade Combat Team will join the 2nd Brigade troops there. More soldiers are expected to deploy this year, putting the post’s commitment in Afghanistan at as many as 10,000 soldiers.

The boost in combat troops comes as the Afghanistan government works to woo Taliban leaders into negotiations that could end the 16 years of insurgency that have gripped that nation.

“We are in the middle of a reconciliation process where there’s an offer for the Taliban to come to the table,” Gardner said.

The senator said the Taliban, which bills itself as the lawful Afghanistan government, is unlikely to give up without a serious fight in the coming months.

But now, he said, soldiers have more freedom to thwart the looming Taliban offensive. Gardner said the Taliban grew in Kandahar because U.S. authorities weren’t targeting them.

“They would hide behind our rules of engagement,” he said.

Gardner said the end of Afghanistan war could come after a summer of fighting. The Trump administration has outlined goals for bringing the war to a close.

“They are making progress on each of those goals,” he said.

Tom Roeder, The Gazette

Tom Roeder, The Gazette