A senior Afghan general says the country's new army needs to develop an elite Special Forces unit in order to find and defeat small groups of insurgents who are hiding in rugged mountains along the border with Pakistan. The general spoke from Kabul during a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.
Afghan Lieutenant General Sher Karimi said it is taking years to find and defeat the remnants of the Taleban and other insurgents, because they had years to establish themselves and they know the country very well.
"To eliminate or destroy that enemy, which was well developed from the past in various areas, is not an easy task," said General Karimi. "They have sanctuaries on both sides of the border. There are people who support them, local people, through intimidation and through misguidance given to them in the name of religion."
While General Karimi said the new Afghan National Army is growing and improving, he said the key to defeating the insurgents is developing part of the army as an elite counter-terrorism force.
"This is not a question of using a big force against this enemy," he said. "In fact, it is very important to use a smaller force, well-trained, professional for the special operations to deal with this enemy."
General Karimi said some of the insurgent groups have as few as five or 10 fighters, and finding them in the mountains is like, in his words, "finding a needle in a haystack."
The Afghan general spoke alongside the U.S. general in charge of training Afghan forces, Major General Robert Durbin. He declined to say whether the planned increase in NATO forces in Afghanistan in the coming months will eventually result in a reduction in U.S. troops in the country. Rather, he said having the NATO force and the U.S. troops will provide additional capability.
"In the short term, what we'll see is an increase in the total number of coalition forces that are available to assist the government of Afghanistan," said General Durbin. "As the transition is complete, we'll have additional capability to deal with the increased threat that's being addressed in the South."
The Afghan officer, General Karimi, said some Afghans have been concerned that the U.S. troops would leave once NATO takes responsibility for security in most of the country late this year. He said that is a misconception, and that the U.S. forces will continue to train the Afghan army and police, and to confront the insurgents, while the NATO forces focus on reconstruction and maintaining order in parts of the country that are relatively peaceful.
Senior U.S. officers have given a similar explanation of the division of responsibility between their forces and NATO.
General Durbin said someday Afghanistan's new security forces will be able to operate on their own. But he would not predict when that might be.
"I'll tell that they will be able to do that, that one day will be Tuesday," he said. "It will not be next Tuesday."
General Durbin said Afghanistan is working to become what he called "a capable partner" in the war on terrorism.