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British Commander Says Southern Afghan Operation On Track

  • Al Pessin

The British commander of international forces in southern Afghanistan says his efforts in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces are on track, but will require considerably more time and patience. And British Major General Nicholas Carter says marginalizing the role of President Hamid Karzai's controversial brother is part of the plan.

Speaking from his headquarters at Kandahar airfield, General Carter said the 102-day-old campaign in and around the town of Marja is on track. But he said the type of detailed effort being made to establish security and get local people involved in a new government structure, led by the local governor, will take three or four more months.

"We're making progress," said General Carter. "But in counterinsurgency it takes time, it takes patience and it's frustrating. And that is what we see at the moment. But nonetheless we're going in the right direction. We'll define success here by the extent to which we roll out, with governor [Tooryalai] Wisa, the provincial governor, at the helm, credible, transparent, inclusive and representative governance that is genuinely connected to the population."

That is a long process. The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told General Carter last week that many people outside Afghanistan see Marja as a "bleeding ulcer." Carter says that is not how it appears to him, but he acknowledged the type of progress he sees is more difficult to quantify, including increased freedom of movement and economic activity, and more political meetings among local officials and tribal elders. The allied command is also working to train more Afghan forces, and to provide them with embedded mentors from coalition countries.

General Carter is facing a larger and even more complex problem in the effort to retake control of the major city of Kandahar. There, he and Afghan officials need to do the same type of things they are doing in Marja, but also bring order to a region of nearly a million people where there is little security, virtually no functioning government, deep mistrust of officials and a strong Taliban presence.

"We will do this using the resources that begin to come online with the second 'force package' of U.S. army reinforcements that arrive in and around Kandahar because that provides us with the wherewithal to train additional policemen, to partner up with them, to improve the command and control and information sharing of the Afghan forces in the city, and importantly to impose a ring of security around the outskirts of the city," he said.

In addition, General Carter says he plans to reduce the role of Ahmed Wali Karzai, the Afghan president's brother, who is chairman of the provincial council. Carter says the council is supposed to be a supervisory body, but has been directly involved in administering the area because the local government was not effective. The general says by improving the operations of the local mayor and governor, he will reduce the influence of the council and Ahmed Wali Karzai, who has been accused of corruption and involvement with the drug trade and local militias.

General Carter describes the effort to gain control of Kandahar for the Afghan government as a four-to-six month project.

"I hope that by the fall, the average citizen in Kandahar will wake up one morning, shake himself down, and he'll realize that he's got a better right of redress [legal recourse], he's got better security, and, importantly, he feels connected to his government in a way that he wouldn't feel today," said General Nicholas Carter.

Carter says people in coalition countries often look for quick, military solutions. But he says in Afghanistan a more comprehensive approach is needed, starting with the basics of security and governance, and that requires more time and patience.