North Afghanistan needs NATO-led offensive: official

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

As NATO troops battle a escalating insurgency in northern Afghanistan, a senior military official said Wednesday a major offensive was necessary in the once relatively peaceful region.

Taliban activity in Afghanistan has traditionally been concentrated in the south, base of the Islamists battling to unseat the Western-backed government.

The north, currently under German command, was until recently regarded as the safest part of the country.

But a rise in militant activity has seen the Germans engaged in major battles for the first time since World War II.

Seven German soldiers were killed last month in heavy fighting in Kunduz province, and Germany's most senior military officer in Afghanistan Wednesday raised the prospect of the first major anti-Taliban offensive in the north.

"If you look at the security situation here it is very tight," said Lieutenant General Bruno Kasdorf, chief of staff at NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.

"I think during the run of this year you will see an improvement. We are going to take them on, and there will be for sure an operation like those that we are conducting in Helmand or in the very near future in Kandahar," he said, referring to the southern provinces where fighting is concentrated

Kasdorf was in Kunduz to award Germany's Gold Cross medal to 14 American soldiers who rescued wounded German troops while under Taliban fire.

It was the first time the medal had been awarded to foreign soldiers.

Eleven German soldiers were wounded in the April 2 attack in Kunduz. Three died later from their injuries, underscoring the rapid deterioration of conditions in the north.

Kasdorf warned the situation in Kunduz would "continue to be challenging," but said an additional 4,000 US troops would soon be deployed to northern Afghanistan to reinforce the 5,000-strong German contingent.

By the end of the year, troop numbers in the region would reach around 12,000, he said, without giving further details.

Germany has the third largest contingent in Afghanistan after the US and Britain. Parliament approved another 850 soldiers in February, but the mission is deeply unpopular with the German public.

NATO and the US are boosting troop numbers to 150,000, from 130,000, by August, with most headed south to take on the Taliban in their heartland.

But Afghan officials have said more help is needed in the north.

"Insurgents are moving where they think the resistance is least -- they realised we didn't have as many forces in the north," Kasdorf told reporters.

© 2010 AFP

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