By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
May 26, 2010 - With U.S. and NATO forces on the verge of major operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a top commander there today underscored the complexity of their charge, citing "political problems and impunities" as the main challenge to overcome.
Operations in Kandahar follow months of combat and other efforts in Marja, a former Taliban stronghold in Helmand province. While the goal in Marja was ousting extremists, the ultimate goal for Kandahar is to legitimize the local government into something its citizens can believe in, said Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, a British army officer who commands international forces in southern Afghanistan, in a video news conference with Pentagon reporters from his base there.
"It's about connecting the population to its government," the general said. "That requires building representative governance from the bottom up. We'll define success here by ... credible, transparent, inclusive and representative governance that is genuinely connected to the population."
Carter described life in Kandahar City, citing its historic and cultural significance. The city is traditionally an economic and commercial hub. Yet, though the city bustles with bazaars and businesses, there's little investment, essential services, sanitation, health care or education, he said.
"It's pretty challenging in terms of productivity and in terms of quality of life," he added.
Carter estimated that up to 1,000 insurgents are in Kandahar province, and he said they have "a degree of control over the battle space" in the rural north and south regions of Kandahar City. "They will be a military challenge," he said, but he added the challenge in the city is more complicated than the insurgency. It's more a problem of order, organization, administration and basic policing than it is contested battle space, he said.
Challenges are present in private-sector security companies and militias, the general noted, explaining that such organizations make it difficult for the Afghan government to compete with salaries for government soldiers and police. He called for a need to regulate private security companies and militias.
Without government oversight and government-backed security forces in place, Carter said, the average Afghan has little in the way of legal rights and freedoms. Criminals and overall disorder pose more problems in the city than the Taliban and insurgency, he said.
"What's needed is that this regulation and proper administration is delivered, so that the police forces have something ... to sort out and bring to order," the general added. What's required, too, he added, is for the capacity of government offices to be built up, so they can bring order and administration to the city.
"If you provide all of those," Carter continued, "then you're not going to have an intimidation problem [from the Taliban] at all."
The surge of U.S. forces arriving in Kandahar will give NATO the muscle it needs to institute the culture of change needed there, he said. More U.S. troops enables more Afghan police training and improved command and control and information sharing, he added, and most importantly, those forces will help to alleviate criminal intimidation and impose "a ring of security" to keep insurgents at bay.
The general stressed that the planning and execution of operations in Kandahar are Afghan-led initiatives directed by President Hamid Karzai. The provincial governor is reaching out to his city and district mayors to engage the population and build relationships with the population, he said.
Carter said he expects operations to begin in the "next month or two," and that by Ramadan, which begins in August, security improvements will begin to be apparent. It will take some three months before a strong, credible government is formed in Marja, he said, leading him to believe that it could take just as long, if not longer, to sway public support and perception in Kandahar.
"The key point of this is that it's a political movement, the Taliban," he said. "It takes time for people to be convinced. We'll have to be patient over the course of the summer watching as the intimidation reduces and the population becomes more on our side."