Afghan soldiers at small outpost vow to hold firm as US exits
One ergonomic office chair, heaters that don't work and some maps are the only signs that US troops once battled daily with the Taliban at Siah Choy, a small combat outpost in southern Afghanistan.
Zhari: One ergonomic office chair, heaters that don't work and some maps are the only signs that US troops once battled daily with the Taliban at Siah Choy, a small combat outpost in southern Afghanistan.
Now manned by just 30 Afghan soldiers, the base is in Kandahar province's Zhari district -- the birthplace of the Taliban movement and scene of years of heavy fighting as NATO forces struggled to gain a foothold in the area.
But the days of US troops leading Afghn recruits through the poppy and hashish fields are over, and the Afghan National Army (ANA) now undertakes operations without outside assistance or the comfort of air support.
"I saw many Americans come and go -- some units only stayed six months," said Lieutenant Saeed Nazir, 40, senior officer at Siah Choy, where he has served since 2009.
"Often the fighting was very intense, with mortars coming into the base, big gunfights and airstrikes. We had good relations with some US soldiers, and bad relations with others.
"They taught us to patrol, and gave us weapons. What we don't have any more is an air force, helicopters to take injured soldiers to hospital, or any night vision equipment.
"We're doing well, with no casualties since the Americans left (in August). We hope it continues -- I have lost 12 close colleagues fighting here over the last five years."
Two weeks before the December 31 end of NATO's combat mission, Nazir led a foot patrol through nearby villages, marking the final day of a 10-day operation involving 1,200 troops and 300 police across four districts.
The soldiers were professional, alert and well-equipped as they spread out through head-high hashish plants and discarded husks from the poppy harvest that puts Kandahar province at the centre of the global opium trade.
"Unlike the police, we don't bother villagers about what they grow," Nazir told AFP. "We want the local people to work with us."
Control of Zhari district swapped several times between Taliban and NATO forces in the 13-year war.
Canadian-led soldiers first won the area in 2006, lost it almost immediately, and then fought for it again in Operation Medusa -- the largest set-piece battle of the whole NATO mission. More than 1,000 Taliban fighters were killed.
In 2010 and 2011, Zhari was also a main focus of President Barack Obama's surge of 30,000 extra US troops at a time when the insurgents held sway over the district.
Many civilians fled the fighting but some have since returned to their homes to tend their fields despite the risk of IEDs (improvided explosive devices), which are often triggered by sensitive pressure pads.