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.
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 ¡ª all issues
concerned some European allies mulling participation in the expanded force.
US soldiers patrol the streets of Kabul.
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
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.