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U.S. heartened as Afghan troops complete operation on their own

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 5:51 p.m.

CAMP THUNDER, Afghanistan — Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali, commander of Afghanistan's 203rd Thunder Corps, looked happy as he sat down for lunch in his eastern command post near the border with Pakistan.

His troops, he said, had just successfully completed a large-scale operation — code-named Azadi, or “freedom” — aimed at securing strategic highways leading out of Kabul and clearing a region around the capital. Along the way, his officers sat down with tribal elders to win support for the military and set up local police forces to defend their villages from the Taliban. It was all done without international troops.

“We did the planning and everything ourselves,” Yaftali said, beaming. “The coalition was there, but they did not fight with us. ”

There have been deep questions about the ability of the Afghan army to take the fight to the insurgency with international combat troops scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014.

The 203rd's success may be a sign that Afghans may be able to hold their own.

U.S. and coalition military officials say that overall, the nascent force is surpassing many of their expectations. They say it is far better prepared to fight alone than many people think and should be able to take over.

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