There was a similar spirit of just-say-no tough love at Forward Operating Base Joyce in Kunar province. When the U.S. refused to supply a remote Afghan guard post in the hills above their side-by-side bases, the Afghans built a road to it themselves.
"They secure the camp better than we do now," said U.S. Army security adviser Lt. Col Bryan Laske.
By the numbers, they are finding 20 percent more improvised explosive devices, or IEDs on average than the Americans did, Laske added.
When Col. Hayatullah, who uses only one name, agreed to clear the Pech Valley, he addressed the villagers before the operation alone.
"I told them I am a fellow Muslim," said the commander of the Afghan army's 2nd Brigade, 201st Corps, gesturing to the Arabic inscription "God is great" on one shoulder of his uniform. "I told them I come with a Quran in one hand and a sword in the other. Your actions determine which one I use."
The troops took the valley and are holding it, something the Americans never could in a decade of battle, Laske said.
In a planning meeting for another clearing operation to come, the Afghan army commanders and a group of police and intelligence chiefs argued over how the operation would unfold, with the Americans sitting silently at the far end of the crowded conference table.
"We're not going to leave the enemy sitting a kilometer away from us and do nothing," shouted Afghan Maj. Mahboob, who also goes by one name, leaping to his feet and straining across the table for emphasis.
"The coalition is going to leave, and we have to be able to do this!" he said. The officer's words were translated by a U.S. military translator, but he later repeated what was said in English when asked.
In the operation McGee oversaw to the south, the 1,250 Afghans took and held the towns, leaving Afghan local police in their stead, McGee said.
"There were no civilian casualties, and the villagers are supporting it and at least 100 local police have started work," said Khogyani district's administration chief, Abdul Wahab Momand.
But even as that operation was going ahead, up to eight suicide bombers hit a police headquarters in nearby Jalalabad, about 75 miles east of Kabul, killing least five officers. On the same day in Helmand province, a car bomb struck a British base, killing one of the coalition troops. Those are grim reminders that militants intend to keep fighting.
"Do we still have challenges? Sure we do," Dunford said. "Literacy, logistics ... technical capabilities. ... But in terms of their ability to provide security to the Afghan people in 2013 and beyond, I'm confident that they'll be able to do that," he said.
Associated Press writers Rahim Faiez and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report. Follow Kimberly Dozier on Twitter: http://twitter.com/kimberlydozier
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