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NATO Troops Have Upper Hand in Afghanistan, Commander Says

05 June 2007

U.S., Afghan officials say Afghan and ISAF troops are on the offensive

Washington -- Continued fighting in Afghanistan is due in part to the increased numbers of international troops aggressively trying to pin down Taliban insurgents while setting the conditions for development and reconstruction, senior U.S. and Afghan officials say.

“I would judge that we presently have the upper hand in what we’re doing,” U.S. General Dan McNeill, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said June 5.

In a separate June 5 press meeting, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said government and international forces have kept up aggressive military operations since March, in anticipation of a spring offensive by Taliban fighters.

“I believe, based on everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve heard, that the spring offensive has been an Afghan-alliance offensive that has put the Taliban off their game,” Gates said while visiting Kabul. “The key is to sustain that.”

Karzai asserted that the war against the Taliban was won in 2001 and that the focus of ongoing operations is “to remove them as terrorist cells hiding from the law. … The war has been won. It’s the finishing touch that we’re dealing with now.”

However, leaders also cautioned that it would take several more years, at least, before Afghanistan’s police and military forces are able to secure and protect the country without international assistance.

Speaking to Pentagon reporters via satellite, McNeill stressed that the 36,000 NATO-led ISAF troops are an “interim force” and that Afghanistan forces will play the most effective role in securing the country.

“Most of us know that the best force to bring against an insurgent is an indigenous security force,” McNeill said. “So, ISAF is an interim force that provides space and time while we grow the institutions of the Afghan national security forces – that would be both army and police.”

McNeill acknowledged there have been high levels of violence in recent months.

“I wouldn’t debate that,” he said. “I believe the reason for this is, once again, we have a bigger force in ISAF this year than we had this time last year. And we are moving continuously and effectively against the insurgents.”

This increased military action has resulted in increased reports of fighting between Taliban and ISAF forces. Taliban fighters also are increasing their use of such tactics as roadside bombs and suicide bombings in an attempt to thwart ISAF and Afghan forces, he said.

“Certainly we have seen an increase in asymmetric types of attacks,” McNeill said. “We predicted, in the second half of February, we were likely to see an increase in insurgent activity along the lines of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and suicide bombers.”

McNeill said the ISAF charter calls for troops to focus on three missions: “security first, secondly, a reconstruction and, thirdly, enabling governance where we’re able to do so.”

For example, the ISAF military operation in the Helmand and Kandahar provinces was launched to set the conditions for the Kajaki Project, which involves the major refurbishment of a hydro-electric dam, which will be the second-largest reconstruction project in Afghanistan, the first being the completion of the country’s ring road. The dam currently provides 10 megawatts to 12 megawatts of electricity, mainly for Kandahar province. Once refurbished, the dam will provide more than 50 megawatts, most of it flowing into Helmand province. The project also will provide 2,500 jobs.

“In the process of setting the conditions to get that project under way,” McNeill said, “we’ve also engaged and destroyed quite a few insurgents, as well as killed or captured quite a bit of their leadership.”

For more information on U.S. policies, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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