KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Recent military operations have taken a major bite out of the insurgency’s ability to plant deadly roadside bombs on the outskirts of Kandahar city but long-term security will require more time and manpower, a Canadian commander said Wednesday.
In a speech aimed at showing Afghan civilians that Canadian and Afghan forces have had success beating back the insurgents, Brig.-Gen. Denis Thompson admitted Taliban activities have been “disrupted” but not
“eliminated” by the operations in the Maywand and Zhari districts.
“There is combat every day in this province and that isn’t going to end any time soon,” said Thompson, the top commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan.
“We are going to stay in the fight and we have to stay active in order to prevail and not lose the initiative to the insurgents.”
Noting just one third of the countryside is secure enough for development and reconstruction to take place, Thompson said efforts are underway to boost both the number of coalition troops operating in
Kandahar as well as the number of Afghan police and army personnel.
A fourth Afghan army Kandak, or battalion, is expected to be ready next spring. There are rumours that the Americans could send additional troops, possibly as many as 1,000 more to Kandahar. The Americans are also expected to handle mentoring responsibilities for the new Kandak in southern Afghanistan.
“Do we have enough soldiers and policemen to control this province at this time? The answer is No,” Thompson said. “That’s why we’re pursuing all these other initiatives.”
Thompson said the current security situation is “not all doom and gloom.”
While the number of improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, planted year over year has increased, so too has the number of IED discoveries.
For every bomb that goes off, nine are found and safely neutralized, Thompson said.
Much of that, he said, is happening in Kandahar city where citizens have embraced their government institutions and feel secure enough to assist coalition and Afghan troops by calling in suspected IEDs.
Still, many people in the countryside remain fearful of reprisal from the Taliban, while others have bought in to the insurgency’s anti-coalition propaganda.
Thompson said Afghans need to realize that for every coalition soldier killed by insurgents using IEDs, three innocent Afghans are also killed.
“This blatant disregard for human life is simply not acceptable,” he said, adding coalition and Afghan troops in Kandahar go to great lengths to ensure civilian casualties are avoided during its operations.
On Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed to review the rules of engagement for foreign troops in the wake of a deadly U.S. air strike in Herat province that killed 90 civilians last week.
“I am happy to report we that we have had very few civilian casualties as a result of our operations in Kandahar province this year,” Thompson said.
“We deeply regret any accidental loss of life that occurs as a result of our actions.”
An increase in insurgent attacks on Highway 1 – Kandahar’s main thoroughfare – over the last few months have targeted not just soldiers but also passenger vehicles, farmers, fuel trucks and World Food Program
convoys, Thompson said.
The military operations in Maywand and Zhari districts this month are expected to reduce such incidents.
Some 60, 20-litre ammonium nitrate containers wired for immediate use as IEDs were found in Maywand, along with 60 kilograms of opium, drug manufacturing equipment and multiple small arms and mortar components used to attack Afghan and coalition troops.
In Zhari district, troops destroyed an IED factory containing more than 20 jugs of ammonium nitrate, more than 20 pressure-plate devices, artillery rounds, suicide vests, IED-rigged motorcycles, 82 millimetre
recoilless rifle rounds, grenades and anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
“The raid destroyed one of the largest IED factories to date within Zhari-Panjwaii and seriously disrupted the insurgents’ ability to produce and deploy improvised explosive devices,” Thompson said.
“There is no doubt many lives have been saved as a result of these operations.”
“Let me be clear: we do expect further attacks. You don’t have to look very hard to find proof that there are serious challenges to security across Afghanistan,” he said.
An IED on Highway 1 was responsible for the deaths of three Canadian combat engineers last week, while a similar roadside bomb injured six Canadian soldiers and two journalists travelling down a main road in
Panjwaii on Sunday.
A Canadian convoy came under attack Tuesday just west of Sarposa prison, while a motorcycle laden with explosives was discovered around the corner from the governor’s palace shortly before Thompson delivered his speech there Wednesday.
“We can’t be everywhere in the province at once,” Thompson said. But Afghan and coalition troops will “continue to do everything in our power to counter this threat.”