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After Kandahar visit, Sen. Cory Gardner says new U.S. combat rules thwarting Taliban

May 1, 2018 Updated: May 1, 2018 at 6:25 am
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Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner met with top U.S. leaders in Kabul and spent time with Fort Carson's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. (Courtesy photo)

New rules of engagement in Afghanistan give Colorado Springs soldiers more freedom to conquer Taliban fighters in the restive city of Kandahar, said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., minutes after returning home from a weekend visit to the war zone.

Gardner met with 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 freshman senator praised new rules that allow American troops more latitude in targeting 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 this year said he would ease restrictions on U.S. troops, clearing the way for them to more actively fight the Taliban. Old rules, in some cases, limited the troops to returning fire when engaged by the enemy.

The new rules let Americans 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 in missions to advise and assist Afghanistan army forces, and they have a new role in securing Kandahar with more traditional combat.

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

Kandahar, in southwestern Afghanistan, was the headquarters of resistance against Soviet invaders in the 1980s. Since the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the city of 500,000 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 Trump and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., 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.

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 Afghanistan war could end after a summer of fighting. The Trump administration has outlined goals to end the war.

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

- Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx

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