Afghanistan — U.S., NATO Forces Set Sights on Kandahar

WASHINGTON, 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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)