THE Afghan general who will lead the fight against the Taleban in Helmand after the withdrawal of international troops said his country would not fall to the insurgents as long as it received the right funding for training and equipment.
Brigadier General Sheren Shah said the insurgent forces have been vastly depleted in recent years but warned that the Afghan National Army needed to be properly resourced to prevent the enemy from gathering in strength after International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) forces leave the country.
Brig Gen Shah commands the 3rd Brigade of 215 Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA), and is based at the ANA Camp Shorabak.
His men are being mentored daily by the Brigade Advisory Group, formed by soldiers from 1 Scots. “There is no doubt that the enemy’s capability has gone down,” he said. “They do not have the same level of weaponry or ammunition that they once had.
“At the same time we are constantly improving and we have 16 months of mentoring left.
“The training our men have received from Isaf has been very helpful. But we still need a lot of training and our men need to gain more operational experience. We need Isaf support right up to the end of 2014 in technical areas and logistics.
“And it is very important that we have enough resources to continue to take the battle to the insurgents.” Brig Gen Shah said that when Isaf forces withdraw, the Taleban would no longer be able to tell Afghan people they were being oppressed by a foreign invader.
He said: “People in this country are smarter than before and the Taleban will not be able to use that excuse to recruit soldiers. Local Afghan people will realise they would be fighting their brothers and that idea will not sell.”
Brig Gen Shah has been fighting in Afghanistan for 30 years and bears a scar on his chin, a reminder of one particularly close call.
“This injury was from a shrapnel blast when I was fighting against the Taleban in the north of Afghanistan in 1998,” he said.
“The shrapnel came from a rocket-propelled grenade. We were under heavy fire from both sides. It was a difficult situation.
“I have been fighting for independence and for democracy in my country. We want a government that is strong and stable, that can give freedom to the people. I think we can do this.”
Two years before the shrapnel injury, when a colonel in the Northern Alliance, Brig Gen Shah was taken prisoner by the Taleban, who were formed as an extremist splinter group from the complex mujahideen union of Afghan warlords.
He was kept in solitary confinement for a year before being sentenced to death.
In line with Afghan tradition, he was given the right to verbally present his final will to his family before he was due to be executed.
But during the journey by car to his family’s home near Kabul, he overpowered his captors and escaped.
Brig Gen Shah said: “I am proud to have fought the Taleban for so long and I will never give up until I meet our objectives. When I see the mark on my chin it reminds me what we are fighting for and how important our mission is.”
The commander speaks Russian, Farsi and the Afghan languages Pashtun and Dari.
He is currently heavily involved in finalising details of the transferral of responsibilities for security in Afghanistan to ANA forces. He is also organising major operations against Taleban strongholds, aimed at depleting their arms stores and seizing the IEDs that ravage the country.
Gen Shah will be the key ANA strategist in Helmand once Isaf forces move out en masse.