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US commander sure of NATO in Afghanistan
Updated: 2005-12-31 09:01

A U.S. commander expressed confidence Friday that NATO-led peacekeeping troops will aggressively keep up the fight against insurgents when they take over control of southern Afghanistan from American troops in the spring.

Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the U.S.-led coalition's operational commander, also called a recent rise in suicide bombings a sign of the insurgency's increasing desperation over Afghanistan's successful parliamentary elections in September and other democratic advances.

"As we approached the elections I think the enemy realized what was at stake," Kamiya told reporters at the U.S. base in Kandahar, a southern city that was the former stronghold of the ousted Taliban religious militia.

NATO foreign ministers approved plans earlier this month to send up to 6,000 mostly European and Canadian soldiers into volatile southern Afghanistan, while about 10,000 NATO troops continue to watch over the north and west.

The expansion, which is expected to begin in May, will free U.S. forces to focus on counterinsurgency operations against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters along the country's southern and eastern frontier with Pakistan, where insurgents are most active.

US soldiers patrol the streets of Kabul.
US soldiers patrol the streets of Kabul. [AFP/file]
The plans give the NATO peacekeepers a stronger self-defense mandate, guarantee support from U.S. combat troops if they face a serious attack and set rules for handling detainees all issues concerned some European allies mulling participation in the expanded force.

Kamiya said NATO troops would be aggressive in the fight against insurgents.

"I feel very, very confident ... that each nation understands what the conditions are here," Kamiya said during a visit by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is making a six-nation tour to rally U.S. troops during the holidays.

Canadian Col. S.J. Bowes said his nation, which will assume responsibility for Kandahar, was prepared to extend the offensive nature of the operation.

"It's clear that this is not a peacekeeping mission," he said, although he stressed that he couldn't speak for the British army, which will command the NATO mission in the south.

The British Foreign Office had no comment on the comments by Kamiya and Bowes. However, the Ministry of Defense said several tasks needed to be carried out around the country and the British government recognizes that Taliban remnants are active in southern Afghanistan.

This year has been the deadliest in Afghanistan since a U.S.-led offensive ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida training camps. More than 1,500 people have been killed as militants loyal to the Taliban, al-Qaida and other groups have stepped up attacks.

Two suspected Taliban suicide bombers died Thursday when explosives they were strapping to their bodies exploded prematurely in the south, officials said.

The blast followed a string of suicide attacks and came days after a top rebel commander claimed more than 200 insurgents were willing to kill themselves in assaults on U.S. troops and their allies.

Kamiya dismissed the claim by Mullah Dadullah as propaganda but acknowledged such attacks have been rising.

"Suicide bombers were almost nonexistent when we came here in March. What we did notice though is that the rise in suicide bombings began in June," he said.

"The enemy began to realize that every time he came at us directly he would always lose great numbers of fighters and insurgents. So this caused him to adapt his tactics."

Unlike in Iraq, suicide attacks were relatively rare in Afghanistan until September, fueling fears that rebels could be adopting tactics used in the Middle East.

There have been about a dozen such attacks the past few months, including twin assaults in Kabul on Nov. 14 that targeted NATO-led peacekeepers and killed a German soldier and eight Afghans.

A suicide bomber also set off explosives near a U.S. and Afghan military convoy in Kandahar on Dec. 11, killing himself and wounding three civilians. A week earlier, a suicide bomber killed a civilian and wounded a Canadian soldier.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced earlier this month that the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be cut from 19,000 to about 16,500 by spring, but he cautioned that removing forces too quickly could impede the long-term hunt for terrorists.

That was welcome news to Army Specialist Aaron Krueger, 21, of Mentone, Ind.

"The sooner we get the job done the better," he said after listening to Pace address troops at Kandahar.

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