By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
April 22, 2009 - Southern Afghanistan –- the home of the Taliban as well as host to the country's opium-growing industry –- is now the focus of the anti-insurgent campaign there, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Afghanistan said today. Probably 80 percent of insurgent activity in Afghanistan is "in the south right now," said Army Maj. Gen. Michael S. Tucker, deputy chief of operations for NATO's International Security Assistance Force and deputy commander for operations for U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
Some 20,000 additional U.S. troops are headed to Afghanistan this summer. Most of those forces, Tucker said, will be posted in the south to pressure Taliban militants and to assist with governance and humanitarian operations.
"Obviously, the south is the center of gravity for the Taliban themselves in Kandahar [province]," Tucker said. The strategy in the south, he continued, will be "to reach out to villages" and assist local governance efforts, while working with local Afghan troops and police.
The additional U.S. forces, Tucker said, will help to "get the job done as efficiently and as quickly as possible." In the past, he added, U.S. troop presence in southern Afghanistan was scant.
Meanwhile, increased information sharing among U.S., coalition, Afghan and Pakistani security forces arrayed along the Afghan-Pakistan border to the east is helping to keep insurgent cross-border activity "in check," Tucker said.
"The end result is we're able to take advantage of the border regions that the insurgents used to be able to take advantage of with impunity," Tucker said. While it's impossible to totally seal off the border, he said, increased cooperation along the Afghan-Pakistan border is enabling the interdiction of more and more insurgents.
An additional 4,000 U.S. trainers will be posted in eastern Afghanistan to assist in the instruction of Afghan soldiers and police, Tucker said.
"Again, I can't emphasize enough the importance of building indigenous capacity in the Afghan national security forces so that they can eventually secure the country themselves," Tucker said.
Meanwhile, Tucker said, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency members posted in Afghanistan are working with their Afghan counterparts to go after opium growers and drug traffickers in Helmand province, also in the south. Heroin is processed from poppy plants.
Anti-drug forces in Afghanistan have seized more opium during the first four months of this year than was confiscated during all of last year, Tucker said. Some United Nations estimates, he said, point to $400 million being generated annually through the Afghan drug trade, some of which is used to fund the insurgency there.
"Every strike that we make on a narcotics lab or a storage facility is done in conjunction with the Afghan Counternarcotics Police," Tucker said. Search warrants for the raids, the two-star general noted, are provided by Afghan judges.
"So, we're looking at a very good year in terms of counternarcotics operations and the attacking of the nexus where narcotics and [the] drug trade benefits the insurgency," Tucker said.