Thursday, September 24, 2009

Afstan: Canadian Army general being realistic

As I wrote in August (end of this post):
It seems we're getting more realism and less spin--though the earlier spin was no doubt necessary for troop morale--and politically.
Now, from the CEFCOM commander:
Rough year ahead in Afghanistan: Canadian commander
Lieutenant-General Marc Lessard, the commander of CEFCOM, speaks with reporters at Kandahar Airfield on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009. (Bill Graveland / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Lieutenant-General Marc Lessard, the commander of CEFCOM, speaks with reporters at Kandahar Airfield on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009. (Bill Graveland / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Coalition forces in Afghanistan face a difficult year in 2010: that's the blunt assessment delivered Thursday by the commander of Canadian soldiers stationed overseas.

"The thing of concern, and I'm not giving you a rosy-coloured outlook, is the level of violence has gone up," Lt.-Gen. Marc Lessard, commander of CEFCOM (Canadian Expeditionary Force Command) said in an interview at Kandahar Airfield.

"Definitely, next year is going to be a tough year. There'll be lots of military operations, no doubt, to degrade and isolate the Taliban -- isolate not just geographically, to push them to areas in the mountains, but to try and isolate them from the population."

Lessard has done a tour of duty in Afghanistan as the commander of Regional Command South, a geographic quadrant of the country which includes the provinces of Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, Urozgan and Day Kundi.

He said he agrees with the assessment of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, who believes that the next year will be critical for Afghanistan's future.

"We are making tactical success in Kandahar [but what is that doing, right now, for the populace?], but overall in the country -- and that's what Gen. McChrystal's saying -- is if you're thinking long-term of establishing security, development and governance, we're a long way from establishing that," Lessard said.

Nor can commanders look at the situation exclusively through the prism of military success or failure, he added.

"When we look at it next fall, the fall of 2010, we will ask, `Are the Taliban degraded, yes or no?' But the important thing is, does the ordinary Afghan, man or woman, have confidence in the government of Afghanistan to deliver good enough security, good enough governance?"..

Previous attempts by Canadian troops in this region have initially succeeded but ultimately failed since the Taliban have returned to their old haunts once an operation comes to an end.

The Panjwaii district, a region just southwest of Kandahar city that's widely acknowledged as the birthplace of the Taliban, will continue to be a central focus for coalition troops in 2010 [well, mainly the CF, not the newly arrived Americans, see below], Lessard acknowledged.

Panjwaii, which has borne witness to a great many of Canada's military triumphs and tragedies over the last several years, remains an elusive prize. Coalition forces mount aggressive, successful operations in the area, but thanks to limited resources and personnel, struggle to keep it from falling back into Taliban hands.

"It's going to be a significant operation in Panjwaii (next year)," Lessard said. "So we are going one step at a time but we have to go there. There's a major population there and you gotta deliver."

That effort will involve moving in tandem with Afghan security forces -- permanent units of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police --who can stay in position and stand their ground to keep insurgents out, he added...

With the arrival of the US Army Stryker brigade combat team at Kandahar, the CF will be able to put most of their effort into Panjwaii and Dand districts rather than being responsible for the whole province--a big improvement in force-to-space (the US Army battalion that is part of the CF's Task Force Kandahar looks like it has Zhari district now).

Interesting that there's no mention of possibly needing more reinforcements (American of course) for the province. And curious that there's no mention even of the American troops now there.


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