By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 25, 2009 - Troops in southern Afghanistan are preparing to launch a "new phase" of operations designed to secure the population but which may also lead to increased violence, a NATO commander said today. Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of the ISAF's Regional Command South in Afghanistan, said his 30,000-strong force will soon begin operations to clear, hold and build central and southern Helmand province and stabilize Kandahar.
"We're entering a new state in the operation, in which I would like to make the case that we took away the operational initiative from the insurgents and are now entering a new state, in which we will have the operational initiative on our side and maintain it," he told reporters at the Pentagon today.
De Kruif, who spoke via videoconference from Kandahar, has seen his forces grow by about 8,000 troops over the past several months amid an influx of mostly U.S. forces. The general recently took command of the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Task Force Pegasus, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, known as Task Force Leatherneck.
The newly-arrived components, which represent part of the 57,000 overall U.S. forces in Afghanistan, will aid in the operations that are ramping up, the commander said. Meanwhile, NATO has some 32,000 forces there.
"We (should) see the effects of the additional forces on the ground in a very short time from now," de Kruif said.
But de Kruif also predicted that the number of attacks in southern Afghanistan is likely to rise with the influx of additional troops there.
"There will be an increase in incidents in the next couple of months, based on the fact that we are going to deploy these forces and secure areas where we've never been before until now," he said. "And we will also be able to put much more pressure on the insurgency than we did until now."
The general said his command measures success through frequent polling of the Afghan people, tracking the number of incidents and the amount of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, uncovered.
"The best two metrics I have seen up to now is the amount of shops open in the bazaar and the amount of schools open in the villages," he added. "I would say that's by far the best metrics that I've seen until now."
Meanwhile, one of the multinational force's major security concerns is the "nexus" of the narcotics trade and networks responsible for launching IED attacks.
"It's sad to say that the nexus is there -- we've proven it -- and that the narco-industry is fueling the insurgency partly," de Kruif said. "There is some decrease in poppy harvest now, but overall, the effect of this will be seen on the long run, not next year" in reducing revenues from poppy trade.
De Kruif noted that Regional Command South established a civilian-military cooperation cell in November that produced a regional economic plan endorsed last month by all the governors, line ministries, task forces and provincial reconstruction teams.
The cell oversees about $700 million in projects, nearly $300 million of which is already in use to fund power, water, water management and regional infrastructure.
"This is a significant step and has added value towards the work, what the (provincial reconstruction teams) are doing in the province," he said.