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NATO Afghan Expansion on Track

British, Dutch, and Canadian troops are arriving by the thousands in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan as NATO prepares to take responsibility for security in the southern region in July.

NATO forces are training to fight the Taleban in Kandahar province, in southern Afghanistan. Taleban activity has spiked in the region in recent weeks. According to General James Jones, commander of NATO forces worldwide, the Taleban knows a large buildup of NATO troops is underway.

"This is something that an intelligent enemy knows is going to happen; they have made the calculus and they are trying to make a statement right now,” Jones said. “I think that they have figured out that it is going to be much more difficult in a few months."

NATO plans to take control of security and development in the southern part of the country starting in early July. Then there are plans to immediately move into the eastern provinces. NATO will deploy just over 30,000 troops, effectively doubling the number of foreign troops in the country. U.S. troops in the country will operate under NATO command. Lt. General David Richards is Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Richards said, "With that comes the great psychological improvement that gives people, say down in the south, the courage to say to the Taleban when they come into the villages, 'We don't want that, we actually want some of that'."

Richards is referring to security and development. At the core of NATO's plans is the creation of security zones in the provinces that will control access along key roads and ingress points.

Colonel Chris Vernon is chief of staff of the Southern Regional Command. He says security is crucial to NATO's most important goal: development. "Down in the south here we have really got to keep working on the security line of operation,” he said. “It is by achieving a decent security environment, that we allow the development to come in behind it. We are not quite here yet."

The United States has deployed limited numbers of provincial reconstruction teams (PRT) in the provinces. Each team comprises military, diplomatic and development agency personnel. They work with villagers on improving infrastructure, agricultural techniques and governmental processes. General Richards says NATO plans to put more PRT units in the provinces and build on the U.S. success.

Richards said, "In Helman province the U.S. had a very competent PRT. I can tell you they have done much more than I thought would happen. But the fact is, they only had 100 guys in it. So, now the British have put 2,500 troops and a much bigger cross-government effort into Helman Province."

Most analysts agree the increase in troop levels will have a positive impact fighting the Taleban. Retired Army General William Nash, currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, also offers a cautionary note. "You can expect that the challenges that NATO will face in Afghanistan will in fact be difficult. There are some causes for concern particularly in the areas that the Taleban seemingly have targeted for an increase in their operations."

Some have questioned NATO's willingness to fight as Taleban activity has increased in the last month. Lieutenant Colonel Kowsh Duinhof commands a Dutch Apache helicopter squadron. He says his men are well trained and have already seen a lot of action in other parts of the world. "In the past couple of years we have been doing several missions. First of all, Bosnia and Djibouti, and then the last two years to Iraq and Afghanistan as well,” he said. “Most of them have flown in these kind of scenarios."

Unlike past NATO deployments, General Jones says he is amazed all the countries involved have agreed to operate under the same rules of engagement without any fighting restrictions. NATO officials also caution that pacifying Afghanistan is an effort that will take years to complete.