Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Canadians to be ‘tip of the spear' in Kandahar

The Globe and Mail, World News

By late spring or early summer, Canada will be at “the tip of the spear” of NATO's efforts in Afghanistan, leading a massive push in Kandahar province on the scale of this month's attacks in nearby Helmand, a top coalition soldier says.

Canadian Brigadier-General Craig King, the coalition's director of future plans in Afghanistan's volatile south, said allied forces and government agencies are preparing for an attack that will take place in the coming months, and draw largely from the playbook of this month's assault on Marjah and Nad Ali in Helmand in a bid to push the Taliban from restive pockets in Kandahar province.

“I think we need to be prepared that there's going to be an increase in activity in and around Kandahar. The Canadians are going to be very actively engaged in that, just as the marines and the British are right now in central Helmand,” said Gen. King, himself a Canadian.

“We are going to be, come the summer, the tip of the spear for Afghanistan here. [Fighting] is going to shift to Kandahar, and the Canadians are going to be, along with our American allies, right at the forefront of that spear.”

Gen. King's comments come as Kandahar's governor, Tooryalai Wesa, met Tuesday in Kabul with government and military leaders about the Helmand push, dubbed Operation Moshtarak. Mr. Wesa is seeking assurances that the coalition will correct its Helmand “mistakes [and] misinterpretations,” referring to the 15 civilians that have been reportedly killed since Moshtarak launched Saturday.

“Hopefully, this will not happen [in Kandahar] like it happened in Helmand,” he said. “Hopefully, the casualties will be minimized. The lessons we're learning from Helmand will be very useful for us.”

The International Security Assistance Force took a civilian-first approach to Operation Moshtarak, dropping leaflets warning of a coming fight and scheduling shuras , or tribal gatherings, to build trust in the community – all before a shot was fired. When soldiers did arrive, half were from the Afghan National Army.

That strategy isn't without its flaws. Coalition forces are being slowed in Marjah by a vast network of makeshift bombs, planted during the weeks of warning. Nevertheless, Gen. King said a Kandahar offensive will likely follow the same publicity strategy, to build trust and urge civilians and Taliban alike to leave.

ISAF will again face the ugly task of fighting Taliban amid a civilian population. In Marjah, coalition soldiers have complained that Taliban fighters are taking shelter among civilians, preventing coalition soldiers from firing at them.

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