By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 17, 2008 - Reports that suggest the Taliban have gained a footing in Afghanistan's Kandahar province are "way overblown," a Pentagon spokesman said today. Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters at a news conference that although an increased Taliban presence has been detected in the province, patrols conducted by Afghan National Police and coalition forces "found no evidence that militants control the area."
Press reports from the region said the Taliban had taken seven villages in the area and were poised for an attack on the city of Kandahar. "While in the area, coalition forces moved freely and met no resistance," Morrell said. "Recent reports of militant control in the area appear to be unfounded."
Traditionally, summer is the fighting season in Afghanistan, Morrell said, and this is precisely why Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates deployed 3,700 U.S. Marines to the area. In Regional Command South's area of operations, Marines are blunting an attempt by the Taliban to exert some control over that region.
The press secretary stated that no coalition official is worried that Kandahar is about to fall to the Taliban. "Quite to the contrary, they are confident that they have the forces necessary to secure RC South," Morrell said. "There are going to be attempts by the Taliban to put up some resistance."
In the wake of a prison break by hundreds of Taliban fighters over the weekend, NATO's International Security Assistance Force is moving a battalion to the area to deal with the aftermath. U.S. aviation assets are assisting the movement and are helping forces round up those who escaped, Morrell said.
Gates noted during a NATO defense ministers conference last week in Brussels, Belgium, that coalition deaths in Afghanistan exceeded those in Iraq for the month of May. Morrell said the secretary implored his fellow defense ministers to send more forces to Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan is the No. 1 priority for NATO, and yet we have to put our money where our mouths are to make sure we have adequate forces to do the job for that country," Morrell said.
Morrell also discussed an incident last week that allegedly resulted in the deaths of 11 Pakistani Frontier Corps soldiers. DoD officials said there has been an agreement in principle about the investigation, and that general officers from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States will cooperate.
"As we said last week, every indication we have still is that this was a legitimate attack by U.S. forces acting in self-defense," Morrell said. "All procedures and regulations and coordination had been followed."
Still, Gates said last week that if the investigation suggests the need for changes, U.S. officials will make them