AAP, December 21, 2011

Insurgents “resorting to use of children”


By Max Blenkin

Insurgents in Oruzgan Province are under such pressure from coalition forces that some are resorting to using children to assemble and transport improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Australia's troop commander in Afghanistan says.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Smith, commanding officer of the Mentoring Task Force (MTF-3), said the province was mostly under government control but there were hardcore insurgent groups, each numbering at most a few dozen, in some areas.

He said the constant pressure meant those groups were now centred around the production and placement of IEDs.

"To protect themselves, because it has become so hard to bring in materials, to construct devices, to emplace them without being discovered, they have actually been forced to use children to do the manufacture of the devices, to move the devices, so that it doesn't come into contact with adult males," he said in a telephone interview from Afghanistan.

"Their job is very difficult now and they are doing extreme things to make sure they are not discovered.

"They thought we wouldn't be looking there and to some extent they were right. It's something we only recently discovered in one location."

Lieut Col Smith's 700-strong task group, built around the Townsville-based 2nd Battalion (2RAR), is responsible for training the Afghan National Army (ANA) 4th Brigade up to a standard where it can take responsibility for province security.

He said the quality of individual ANA soldiers and units varied but they had definitely improved overall.

"The key part now is embedding in their minds a tempo of operations, a rate of work that is sufficient to keep the insurgents away from an area or to keep control of an area," he said.

"The worst extreme would be a group that just sits behind their walls and does nothing."

What the Australian mentors are aiming for is a level of ANA activity in which patrols are conducted daily and most nights, with an actual purpose.

"While that seems simple and obvious, it's a level of sophistication that isn't innate and is actually quite difficult to pass on," he said.

"This is a matter of confidence. What we have seen is a tremendous growth in confidence. That is probably the most important thing at the moment as we start to draw closer to transition."

When it comes to firefights with insurgents, Australian and Afghan troops invariably prevail. For that reason, insurgents make extensive use of IEDs, which still inflict significant casualties.

"If every time an insurgent comes into contact, not just with coalition forces but the Afghan security forces, the police and the ANA, he comes out second best, it makes sense he will use a method that would expose him less to that but he can still achieve some effect. The IED is the perfect way," Lieut Col Smith said.

One indication of improving security is ease of movement through the province.

"We can move along most of the main routes now with relative impunity. Certainly locals can. They are not targeted," he said.

"A lot of the ANA vehicles are soft-skinned (unarmoured) and they are able to drive around regularly through the AO (area of operations) without IED strikes."

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