Tuesday, March 10, 2009
ISAF regional commander says more troops and civilians needed
"We're not winning yet." That was the reaction of the Dutch NATO commanding officer in southern Afghanistan to the remarks of US president Barack Obama to the American media. Asked whether the United States is on the winning strait in Afghanistan, Obama had replied with a curt 'no'.
On 1 November, Major-General Mart de Kruif took command of NATO troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the six southern provinces of Afghanistan. According to the general, the situation in the south at present can best be described as a stalemate.
He says more troops are needed. And above all, there's a need for more civil capacity to widen the existing safe areas and connect them to each other. At the moment, there are 17 similar 'ink spots' in southern Afghanistan.
"I would say we are not winning yet, but we are definitely not losing it. I think we've got our concept right. And the concept is having ink spots all over the place where we can guarantee security, in order for development and good governance to come in. That concept has proven to be the right concept. We just need more assets to fuel and to be able to sustain and extend the concept throughout all of southern Afghanistan."
General de Kruif compares the situation in ‘his' area with that in the Netherlands. The Regional Command (South) of ISAF, under which he operates, is five times the size of the Netherlands.
"In the Netherlands we have 55 thousand police officers, while in the Afghan police force, the Afghan army and ISAF we have less than 40,000 people in total. So we haven't enough people to bring security".
According to a recent NATO report, last year 35 percent more foreign military personnel lost their lives in Afghanistan. The level of activity of the Taliban and other illegal fighting groups increased by 33 percent - especially in the form of attacks from roadside bombs. The number of civilian casualties has also increased sharply by 46 percent, and, according to NATO, 80 percent of this increase is due to the Taliban.
General de Kruif observes that the Taliban has changed its tactics compared to two years ago. Fewer direct attacks on ISAF, more terrorism against the local population and 'asymmetric warfare' such as the use of roadside bombs by small groups of fighters.
"That leads by definition to a situation where you have a lot more incidents. Moreover, we have now entered territory where we have never been before, and that too is leading to an increase in the number of incidents."
But the number of incidents doesn't tell the whole story, according to the NATO regional commander. The existing 17 'ink spots' are being extended, and recently two new ones have been added: one in the central part of Helmand province, and one in the Baluchi valley in Uruzgan.
Opium and heroin
In the near future the United States will significantly strengthen its contribution to ISAF in the south. General de Kruif explains that
"The bulk of these forces will go to areas where we haven't been before. Where from the military point of view the mean effort is, and where a lot of the people of Afghanistan live, and that is central Helmand and around the city of Kandahar."
Helmand lies next to Uruzgan, and is the centre where the Taliban is concentrated on the cultivation and sale of poppies and the production of opium and heroin. It's also the heartland of the Taliban.
In his briefing for journalists, President Obama also touched on possible dealings with the Taliban. General de Kruif had earlier told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that dealing with the Taliban is first and foremost a matter for the Afghan government, which needs to be able to negotiate from a position of strength.
General de Kruif also spoke about the forthcoming Afghanistan conference that is being organized by the Netherlands at the request of Washington:
"We need the long-term support of the international community to help Afghanistan where necessary. That's not just a question of sending more troops, but also strengthening the civil component of the operations. And it's also a question of having the patience for this concept to mature, and waiting for the results."