By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 14, 2009 - The road to success in Afghanistan goes through the South, a former commander of international forces there said today. "We all recognize that key to success in Afghanistan is the situation in southern Afghanistan," Dutch army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif said during a Pentagon press briefing. De Kruif is a former commander of International Security Assistance Force's Regional Command South, which oversees operations in extremist strongholds such Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
De Kruif, who relinquished his command last month, explained that conditions in his former region changed greatly during his 12-month assignment. He noted that early in his tenure it was government, not security, that was central in the planning process. De Kruif's force quickly grew from about 18,000 U.S. and NATO troops to roughly 40,000, as the level of violence grew, he said.
An order by President Barack Obama in March sent about 21,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, allowing U.S. and international forces there to extend their reach to parts of the country, including the South, where there was little coalition interaction. The increase provided more troops to train Afghan security forces, with some allotted for combat-focused operations.
"You can't do just a little bit of counterinsurgency," the general said. "You do counterinsurgency and protect 90 to 95 percent of the population, or you don't do counterinsurgency at all."
Not only did NATO military leaders need to address the emerging threat of insurgent attacks on Afghan security forces, they recognized that civilian assistance to improve governance and local development is needed for the enduring efforts, he said.
"I think we've learned that it's not security that's going to deliver the effect, but it's the integrated approach, the comprehensive approach, and you will never have security without the civilian capabilities to support government, reconstruction and development," he added.
Also, de Kruif acknowledged that counterinsurgency operations can only be successful through increased pressure on insurgent leadership, which is why he feels Obama's most recent order for more troops was the right decision, he said.
Obama announced Dec. 1 that the United States would send an additional 30,000 troops to deploy to Afghanistan. The majority of those forces will operate in the South, and are expected to arrive by summer's end. The remaining forces, estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 troops, will arrive next fall, Pentagon officials said.
About 16,000 of the new influx of U.S. troops have already been identified. European nations also have agreed to send about 7,000 more forces since Obama's December announcement.
"The bottom line up front, I think the announcement by President Obama ... is spot on, and from my point of view, is very well received in Europe," de Kruif said. "It shows us two things: First, there's a very clear understanding of the concept of how to secure Afghanistan, and secondly, there's a clear political will to have success in Afghanistan. I think these two issues alone have really had a positive influence on the discussion of Afghanistan in Europe."
The general added that "to be able to deliver the effects and to have success, it is key to deploy these additional forces to Afghanistan, with the bulk of them to be deployed to southern Afghanistan."
Now that more troops are on the way, de Kruif said patience is of the upmost importance.
"What we need to have is strategic patience; let the constants mature and bear through," he said. "It will not be security that lifts us in the long run, it's governance that I see as key for success."
Looking back on his experience in Afghanistan, de Kruif conveyed that the fight in southern Afghanistan is coalition fight. Under his watch, 284 soldiers were killed in action, fewer than half of which were NATO troops.
The general stressed that NATO works, and although arguments can be made about the organization's slow decision-making process, their efforts in Afghanistan have set conditions for a better future there, he said.
However, he cautioned that the next year will be difficult on the troop-contributing nations, as he expects NATO casualties and insurgent violence to increase with the larger force there.
"It's going to get worse before it gets better," he said.
The general will be in the United States for the next few days "paying gratitude" and visiting relatives and families of troops who were wounded and killed under his watch. He'll also spend time discussing his thoughts on the mission in southern Afghanistan with various audiences and organizations, he said.