U.S. Troops Prepare For Delicate And Dangerous New Mission - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

U.S. Troops Prepare For Delicate And Dangerous New Mission

FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne's 4th Brigade, deploying to Afghanistan later this month, are headed into a unique and delicate mission that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta hinted at this week:

They are going as much to talk as to fight.

And that includes talking with the Taliban.

"The Taliban are going to have a role in post-war Afghanistan,'' said Col. Brian Mennes, who commands the 3,300 troopers of the 4th Brigade. "They are Afghans. They are there -- it's just physics!''

When the brigade later takes up positions south and west of Kandahar, where the Taliban presence has been strong and violent, Mennes will have a simple message for the Taliban: "We'd prefer not to have to kill you ... what do you need not to fight?''

Make no mistake: His paratroopers are trained and ready to kill, and have proven themselves over multiple combat tours in Afghanistan. Mennes, a tall muscular man with a booming command voice, has led special operations units on counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan since 2001 and commanded a battalion of paratroopers there on a 15-month deployment in 2008.

He knows many Taliban are sick of fighting and are not strong idealogues. But they plant deadly IEDs, ambush patrols, take down American troopers and Afghan government officials with sniper fire. Nonetheless, Mennes will want to know: "What's it going to take for us not to kill each other?''

His intent, he told The Huffington Post, is "to help create a security environment so folks can have a dialogue without trying to kill each other.'' Day to day, that means partnering with Afghan army and police units, training them where needed and advising them on counterinsurgency operations, sitting down with village elders, understanding civilians' needs and helping where they can -- and encouraging the Taliban to renounce violence and join in.

"The less we kill, the better,'' Mennes said. But when his troops meet the hard-line Taliban, the irreconcilables, he added: "We will kill them.''

That tricky and dangerous dual mission is how American troops are straddling an uncomfortable divide. As public support for the war plummets -- a majority of Americans now want troops back home immediately -- the Obama administration is simultaneously holding high-level negotiations with the Taliban, drawing down U.S. combat power on the battlefield, and rotating fresh combat troops into what is, after all, still a hot combat zone.

Just this week, two Marines were killed in Afghanistan's Helmand Province: Lance Cpl. Edward J. Dycus, 22, of Greenville, Miss., and Sgt. William C. Stacey, 23, of Redding, Calif., the Pentagon said.

Even as the fighting goes on, Panetta told reporters Wednesday that the dwindling number of troops in Afghanistan will increasingly shift from a direct combat role to training and advising Afghan security forces. "Our goal is to complete all of that transition in 2013,'' he said. Under the Obama administration's plan, the current force of about 90,000 will shrink to about 68,000 by the end of this year.

But the transition is already well underway. click here to read the full story

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