Hopeful signs in NATO's Kandahar offensive: British general
A NATO commander on Thursday cited "encouraging signs" that a pivotal push against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan was making headway, but cautioned it would take until June to know if the offensive was making genuine progress.
In a bid to break the back of the insurgency, US-led troops and Afghan forces have cleared key roads in the southern Kandahar province in recent months and bolstered security in Kandahar city, British General Nick Carter told reporters by video link.
A growing number of Afghans were tipping off Western troops to homemade bombs planted by the insurgents, while some Pashtuns were volunteering to join the Afghan army for the first time, said Carter, who leads coalition troops in the southern region, the birthplace of the Taliban.
"These are encouraging signs. They are, by no means, huge measures of success. But you can see the general direction of travel," Carter said from Kandahar Air Field.
There was "definitely momentum, a sense that probably the initiative is now with us and not, as it was a year ago, with the insurgency," he said.
But "it won't be until June next year that we'll be sure that the advances we've made during the course of the last few months are genuinely successful."
In the south, insurgent attacks tended to fade in winter months without foliage to provide cover, and then in the spring, most men were busy with harvesting poppy and pomegranate crops, the general said.
If security gains are still in place starting from next June, than NATO would know that its concerted campaign against the insurgency in the south was working, he said.
Amid waning public support for the mission in Europe and the United States, the offensive in Kandahar -- backed up by an influx of US troops -- is seen as a make-or-break effort to turn around the war in the symbolic heartland of the mainly Pashtun insurgency.
US and NATO officials have sought to portray the war effort as making slow and steady progress in Kandahar and elsewhere, but reports from the ground have been mixed.
Some US and European officials have been more skeptical in private, saying the insurgency remains resilient and in no rush to seek peace negotiations.
Carter said some main roads and highways around Kandahar city were now more secure, including Highway One to the west of the city that was once sowed with roadside bombs.
Last week, the provincial governor was able to travel in an ordinary four-wheel drive jeep from his office in the center of the city to a village 64 kilometers (40 miles) west in the district of Zhari, he said.
Such a trip would have been impossible in the past several years, said Carter, who is due to hand over to a US officer next month after a year commanding the southern region.
In another hopeful sign, Carter said that west of Kandahar city, more Afghans were telling NATO and Afghan forces where homemade bombs, or Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), were planted.
"The other thing that's encouraging is to see the population coming forward and showing us where caches of weapons and explosives have been hidden, but also telling us where the IEDs are," said the general.
With dozens of new checkpoints, outposts and concrete barriers circling Kandahar city, NATO and Afghan forces have set up a "ring" of security around the city that was beginning to bear fruit, he said.
As an example, he said more Afghans ventured outside after dark during the end of Ramadan, which he called a sign of growing confidence in security conditions.
© 2010 AFP