Violence to 'spike' in Afghanistan: Dutch general

21st March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The arrival of more US troops in southern Afghanistan this summer will trigger a rise in violence but the reinforcements will help improve security in the longer run, a NATO general said Friday.

WASHINGTON - More US boots on the ground are needed and could turn the tide, but will mean more contact with insurgents in the volatile south, said the Dutch commander of NATO forces in the region, Major General Mart de Kruif.

"I'm absolutely sure that we will see a very important year in RC (Regional Command) South, that we will see a spike in incidents once the US force hits the ground, but the situation will significantly change in a positive way within the next year," Kruif told Pentagon reporters by video link from Kabul.

His comments came as a wave of clashes killed more than 70 people in Afghanistan in recent days, including 18 policemen and four Canadian soldiers Friday, giving more fodder to alarm about the country's mounting Taliban-led insurgency.

Afghan and US-led troops killed 30 militants in the flashpoint southern province of Helmand Thursday, the biggest single clash in over two months, as Afghanistan gears for another year of intense fighting starting in the spring.

Amid the growing unrest, President Barack Obama last month approved the deployment of 17,000 additional troops to join US and other NATO forces. He is also expected to unveil a new war strategy in the coming days.

Kruif said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had pushed out insurgents associated with the Taliban in parts of Helmand and Oruzgan provinces but that they lacked the troops to expand security efforts.

"From an ISAF point of view, we are not stopped by the insurgency, but we just ran out troops," the Dutch general said.

He welcomed the deployment of more US soldiers, saying it could transform the terms of the war.

"The influx of additional forces ... will really be a game-changer from my point of view," Kruif said, adding that international troops currently control about 60 percent of populated areas in the south.

Most US reinforcements are headed to the south, where Australian, British, Canadian and Dutch troops are deployed under NATO command.

After being ousted in 2001 by a US-led force, the Taliban have rebounded and are now challenging the Kabul government in the south and east despite the presence of more than 70,000 foreign troops.

A prominent anti-Taliban lawmaker was killed in a bomb attack in Helmand Thursday.

Four Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were killed Friday and nine others were injured in two separate explosions in southern Afghanistan.

The additional US forces will allow NATO to put more pressure on the insurgent leadership, and enable troops to secure a wider area for reconstruction and development projects, according to Kruif.

The general said the expanded security push needed to be accompanied by increased civilian development efforts, which the Obama administration is expected to announce soon as part of its new strategy.

Improving governance at the local district level would be "decisive" in allowing for the eventual withdrawal of foreign forces, said Kruif, who oversees about 23,000 troops.

Crude makeshift bombs known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the weapons of choice for insurgents, with Afghans as the main victims, he said.

The key to defending against the explosives -- much simpler than devices used by insurgents in Iraq and rarely detonated by remote control -- was attacking the bomb-making networks and winning the trust of the local Afghan population, the general added.

The thriving opium trade from poppy crops formed a "financial nexus" with the insurgency, with some elements of the Taliban motivated mainly by drug profits, Kruif said.

"Once we've got that information, that intelligence firmly established, we will try to hit that nexus. And I can tell you, every time we target the nexus, we find it," he said, adding that British troops and other NATO forces were targeting the insurgents' drug networks with success.

Kruif said local government and NATO efforts sought to provide alternative livelihoods to Afghans who rely on the profitable poppy crop.

Dan De Luce / AFP / Expatica

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