NATO Command Expects 'Rising Violence' As US Escalates

The NATO commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command South in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif of the Netherlands, noted today that the number of attacks in Afghanistan is likely to rise as the influx of additional US troops expected over the next six months begins to arrive. The Regional Command South covers a restive section of Afghanistan, including Kandahar and the opium poppy growing Helmand Province that has been the scene of heavy insurgent Taliban activity. From Defense Link:

An increased U.S. presence in the region will spur NATO-led pressure on insurgents and improve efforts to counter narcotics and makeshift bombings, Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of the ISAF's Regional Command South in Afghanistan, said.

But the overall addition of 17,000 U.S. troops to the American contingent in Afghanistan will be met with increased violence at the outset of the plus-up, including a possible uptick in insurgents' growing use of homemade bombings, the commander said.

"That will lead in the first couple of months after the influx of U.S. forces to what I think is going to be a significant spike in incidents," de Kruif told reporters at the Pentagon.

NATO has some 32,000 troops in Afghanistan and of those approximately 22,000 are under the command of Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif. At the moment, there are 38,000 US troops in Afghanistan with the escalation expected to bring that number to 55,000.

The other noteworthy part of Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif's comments concern a change in tactics on the part of the Taliban insurgency who are increasingly targeting the civilian population with the aim of wearing down support for the occupation.

One of the multinational force's major security concerns is the "nexus" of the narcotics trade and networks responsible for launching attacks involving improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which account for 70 percent of the region's casualties, according to the general. Over the past two years, such attacks have increasingly targeted the civilian population, de Kruif said.

"The insurgents changed their overall strategy from attacking our strength, being ISAF, towards focusing on terrorizing the local nationals, the Afghan people," he said. "For ISAF, that means that we have to deliver a 24/7 security in the focus areas where we are placed. It's no use of getting into a village at 8 in the morning and then leave that village at 5 in the evening."

If it is not use of getting into a village at 8 AM then that likely means the villages are going to require protection around the clock. The effort to right the approach has been hamstrung by a lack of troops and a bifurcated command structure in which, unlike the mission in Iraq, no single commander is really in charge. A recent Rand report highlighted the lack of cooperation between the various components of the NATO force leading to intelligence blunders and a failure to coordinate attacks leaving an uneven approach that the Taliban have successfully exploited to their advantage. The problem has been that each regional command, led by a different country's military, takes a different approach. The lack of coordinated tactics isn't helping.

The rotation of command in the Regional Command is currently held by the Dutch, having taken over from the Canadians late last year. This fall, the British will take over lead  in the Regional Command South for another 12 months. It is likely the US in 2010 will then take over command of the south altogether, and retain it indefinitely, sources say.

There has also been much focus, debate and acrimony on the increase in the number of troops in Afghanistan. It's a hard issue and one that warrants coverage on progressive blogs. Afghanistan remains an area where most of us, myself including, still face a steep learning curve. Most analysts who study the problem in Afghanistan, as well as many military commanders, recognize that more troops will not be the cure-all, which worrisome in and of itself. Most important, analysts say, is a well-defined counterinsurgency strategy to support not only combat activities but also reconstruction and stability initiatives that typically make up the lion's share of any counterinsurgency strategy. A winning hearts and minds component remains sorely missing.

Getting Afghanistan right to some means not being there at all and to others it seems to mean supporting the President no questions asked. In my view, Afghanistan is a conversation that the progressive movement needs to have before it hopelessly divides us. At this point, the only sure conclusion is that there are few easy answers.

The Rethink Afghanistan website has a petition calling for Congressional Oversight Hearings on the Afghan war.  That seems a good place to start.

Tags: Afghanistan, NATO, US Foreign Policy (all tags)

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