By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 10, 2009 - Additional forces in southern Afghanistan will allow the coalition to better protect the people there from the Taliban, the commander of Regional Command South told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other defense leaders here today. "It is fair to say that the last seven months have been tough," said Dutch army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, who has been in command of the region since November.
Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold. Nine of the most violent provinces are in the south, and a significant U.S. troop increase is changing the nature of the fight. Meanwhile, security has deepened and expanded in the areas the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force control, especially in Oruzgan, central Helmand and elements of Zabol provinces, de Kruif said.
The influx of American troops in the region has doubled the numbers available for operations, and most already have started operations. The 2nd Infantry Division's 2nd Stryker Brigade is to move into the area in July and complete the build-up in time for Afghan elections in August.
The new forces will allow the command to deliver three effects, de Kruif said. "First, they will put more boots on the ground" to consistently and persistently deliver security for the Afghan people of the region, he explained. The Taliban rely on a tactic of terrorizing the people of the region. "That means that we cannot come into a village at 8 in the morning and leave at 5 in the evening," the general said. "We need to have 24/7 presence to deliver more security."
The second effect comes from additional helicopters in the region, giving the command more capability to project where it wants to go when it wants to go there, the general said. "So we will go to areas we never were before and disrupt the enemy leadership and logistics," he said.
Finally, he said, the additional forces will give the command the ability to go after the networks setting roadside bombs.
De Kruif applauded the decision to add more civilian capability to the region along with additional military forces. American civilians are being integrated completely into the provincial reconstruction teams in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
"Overall, I am absolutely sure we got the concept right of shape, clear, hold and build," he said. "We are starting to resource the concept now, and I believe we will see our first effects in the next couple of months."
The additional troops will allow the command to break what ISAF commander Army Gen. David D. McKiernan called a stalemate. Before the buildup, the command had roughly 20,000 troops providing security around the clock for 60 percent of the area's population. The troops were arrayed throughout the provinces, making a map charting their activity look like ink spots. The additional troops will "connect those ink spots" and bring security to 90 to 95 percent of the people, de Kruif said.
The command also will be able to pay more attention to its border with Pakistan, which de Kruif said is "completely open." Insurgents have had freedom of movement between sanctuaries in Pakistan and the battlefields of Afghanistan, he said.
"That will change with the new forces we have now," he said. "We have the ability to interdict these lines of communications much more."
The command also is conducting other operations against Taliban fighters seeking to use the border area to hide. "We are investing now in training and mentoring the Afghan Border Police," de Kruif said, noting that a border police unit completed eight weeks of focused training this week.
The general also stressed the importance of cooperation with Pakistan.
"We will open a Joint Border Control Center with the Pakistani armed forces as soon as possible," he said. "We have increased cooperation with the Pakistani armed forces to get more control along the border.
"Nevertheless," he added, "we have to realize we will not close this border completely."
Gates is here for meetings about Regional Command South on his way to a NATO defense ministers conference.