WASHINGTON (March 20, 2009) – The number of attacks in Afghanistan is likely to rise with the influx of additional U.S. forces there, an International Security Assistance Force commander said Friday.
An increased U.S. presence in the region will spur NATO-led pressure on insurgents and improve efforts to counter narcotics and makeshift bombings, Netherlands Army Maj. Gen. Mart de Kruif, commander of the ISAF’s Regional Command South in Afghanistan, said.
But the overall addition of 17,000 U.S. troops to the American contingent in Afghanistan will be met with increased violence at the outset of the plus-up, including a possible uptick in insurgents’ growing use of homemade bombings, the commander said.
“That will lead in the first couple of months after the influx of U.S. forces to what I think is going to be a significant spike in incidents,” de Kruif told reporters at the Pentagon.
The United States has roughly 38,000 forces in Afghanistan with the deployment of additional troops to begin in late spring. NATO has some 32,000 forces there.
De Kruif expressed optimism that security would improve following a round of Afghan elections slated for August, adding that there’s no current evidence suggesting insurgents are focused on disturbing the balloting process.
“I think that what we are doing now is actually planting the seeds, and that we will view a significant increase in the security situation across southern Afghanistan next year,” he said.
The area covered by Regional Command South comprises a restive section of Afghanistan that has been the scene of heavy insurgent activity. Under de Kruif’s command is a roughly 22,000-strong composite force with troops from the United States, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Canada, among other contributors.
The command’s focus centers on security and stabilization operations and building government institutions, including a national Afghan security force, de Kruif said. He added that he hopes ISAF will be able to assume a mentor role to the Afghan National Army and Police in three to five years.
Meanwhile, one of the multinational force’s major security concerns is the “nexus” of the narcotics trade and networks responsible for launching attacks involving improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which account for 70 percent of the region’s casualties, according to the general. Over the past two years, such attacks have increasingly targeted the civilian population, de Kruif said.
“The insurgents changed their overall strategy from attacking our strength, being ISAF, towards focusing on terrorizing the local nationals, the Afghan people,” he said. “For ISAF, that means that we have to deliver a 24/7 security in the focus areas where we are placed. It's no use of getting into a village at 8 in the morning and then leave that village at 5 in the evening.”
De Kruif noted that the higher frequency of attacks has not been matched by an increase in the IEDs’ sophistication, nor is there evidence suggesting materiel from Iran is being used in the assembly of the explosives. The most common IED is detonated by a pressure-plate mechanism triggered by the victim, about 70 percent of whom are Afghan nationals, he said.
“Based on the fact that these IEDs are relatively easy to produce, we don't see any real signs of influence by other countries like Iran with the fabrication and the use of these IEDs,” he said. “So I would not say that IEDs are sophisticated yet.”
Emerging technology in the field of IED detection and equipment like the mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, which deflects the impact of explosions, are helping stem the threat of IEDs, de Kruif said. But the key in defeating the tactic also demands that a basic counterinsurgency objective be achieved.
“The first step is having an approach in which you win the hearts and minds of the people. So that means that every day, although we have an IED threat, our forces will go out and have a 24/7 presence amongst the Afghan people,” he said. “Because by the end of the day, it is the Afghan people who will deny the use of IEDs by the insurgency.”