Editor’s note: This is the fifth of a seven-part series examining conditions in Afghanistan in the last year of U.S. military operations there. The series runs every Wednesday and will examine each of the country’s regional commands to get a sense of the country, and the war, America is leaving behind. You can find the Series Introduction here, Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.
Regional Command South encompasses Afghanistan’s key southern province of Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement in the 1990s and an epicenter of its violent resurgence between 2005 and 2006. The province’s importance as a Taliban stronghold and population center made it a key focus of the U.S. troop surge announced in 2009, which yielded some tentative gains there. But more than 16 months after the official end of the surge, Kandahar remains one of Afghanistan’s most violent provinces, and parts of it remain under Taliban control.
The insurgency in Kandahar did not start immediately after the American invasion. Key Taliban commanders surrendered in 2001, and local residents did not agitate for their return. But by 2005, abuses by U.S.-backed local power brokers, who used the pretense of counterterrorism to settle tribal or political rivalries with the unwitting aid of Americans, created conditions for a backlash. The Taliban leadership had by then regrouped over the border in Pakistan. Combined with a thin international military presence in the south, popular disaffection gave the Taliban space to mount a new offensive by positioning itself as a defender of the people against government abuse.