BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Afghan and NATO forces are planning an offensive to clear Taliban insurgents from areas around the city of Kandahar by late November, the NATO commander for southern Afghanistan said on Tuesday.
Some 10,000-12,000 Afghan soldiers and 5,000 police backed by thousands of international troops will focus operations against an estimated 1,000 insurgents in districts west of the strategic city, British Major-General Nick Carter said.
“It will happen in the next two to three months, but our expectation is that by mid- to the end of November that we will have rid those areas very much of the Taliban,” he told reporters in Brussels by video conference from Afghanistan.
“You need to dominate the population and dominate the ground ... in order to achieve the solution.”
Carter, whose near 28,000-strong regional force includes Americans, British, Slovaks, French, Belgians, Canadians and Romanians, said international troops would fight alongside the Afghan forces and provide air and other logistical support.
He said that in the past year the combined Afghan international forces in the Kandahar region had succeeded in seizing the initiative back from the insurgents in a region considered the birthplace of the Taliban movement.
However, hundreds of insurgents were operating “with a degree of freedom” south of Afghanistan’s Highway One — the main road that sweeps across southern Afghanistan — and the aim was to protect the vital ring road and population centers.
The key to the long-term success of the operation would be to ensure the establishment of Afghan administration in areas cleared of insurgents.
“You can’t get stability unless you have security and governance working in parallel,” he said. “It’s about Afghan human capacity ... These things take time and if we give it time, there’s a sporting chance it will prevail.” Carter said NATO forces were also looking to double electricity supplies over the next 6-9 months to Kandahar city, where hundreds of businesses have folded in the past two years.
“If you haven’t got employment ... you will begin to drive people to all kinds of potentially nefarious activity or indeed insurgency. So it’s important that all that happens in tandem.”
There has been a big increase in foreign troop numbers to around 15,000 in Kandahar province since U.S. President Barack Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 more U.S. troops to try to create conditions to train Afghan forces so that they can eventually take over security duties from NATO.
A major thrust against the insurgents had been expected earlier this year to demonstrate progress by the year end, when the White House plans another review of the Afghan operation.
But NATO and the U.S. military said the offensive would unfold more slowly than originally planned, given fierce Taliban resistance and the need to prepare local authorities to provide services once security improves.
Editing by Mark Heinrich