Kandahar Military Base, Afghanistan (AFP) Oct 16, 2009
Between 10,000 and 15,000 more troops are needed to maintain security in restive southern Afghanistan, NATO's commander in the region told AFP in an interview Thursday.
"In RC (regional command) south, to really complete the 'shape, clear, hold, build,' we need at least two additional brigades of coalition forces, somewhere between 10,000 or 15,000 troops," said Major General Mart de Kruif.
The additional troops include support units for the brigades, the Dutch officer added.
"Since we deployed the US forces, at the regional level, it's very clear that the initiative switched to our side," said de Kruif, commander of almost 40,000 International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers in the south.
But he said "we absolutely need additional forces" to clear other areas in the south, such as troubled Helmand province.
De Kruif was speaking as US President Barack Obama mulls whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, in addition to the 21,000 deployed in recent months, mainly to the Taliban strongholds of Helmand and Kandahar.
The commander of the 100,000-strong US and NATO force, US General Stanley McChrystal, has reportedly asked for up to 40,000 more troops to combat an increasingly bloody insurgency that is spreading nationwide.
Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Wednesday that 500 more soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan, taking the country's deployment level to 9,500 -- the second biggest force behind the United States.
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in an interview published Thursday France would not send any extra troops to Afghanistan.
"Do we need to stay in Afghanistan? I say yes. And stay to win. Not against Afghanistan, but for Afghanistan," Sarkozy told Le Figaro newspaper.
"If we leave, it is nuclear power Pakistan that will be threatened. But France will send not a single soldier more," he said.
De Kruif said the additional troops were required in populated areas to counter the potential for Taliban influence to spread.
"If you want to be able to move from a 'hold' to a 'build' phase, you've got to go to these areas which are now more or less safe havens for the insurgency," he said.
ISAF's southern regional commander also said there was a need for more civilian personnel to boost governance, development and reconstruction after the areas are cleared by the military.
Currently, only 200 civilians work in the region with provincial reconstruction teams, he said.
"We also need additional ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces), trained ANP (Afghan National Police)," he added.
At present, there are about 15,000 Afghan soldiers and 10,000 police in the south -- about half the number of international forces.
"We need balance if we want to implement embedded partnering. We'll get additional ANSF in RC South hopefully in the first half of next year," he said.
Asked about the situation in the strategically vital city of Kandahar, the general rejected claims that it was about to fall to the Taliban.
"Security there is led by the Afghans," he said, noting that although they had shown "an increasing capability", reinforcements were needed.
De Kruif said it was "possible" that the results of the August 20 Afghan presidential elections -- tainted by claims of fraud against incumbent Hamid Karzai -- could provoke violence among the southern population.
Results of a recount of suspicious ballots are expected in the coming days.
"I don't know how the Pashtuns (Karzai's traditional powerbase) are going to react to that," De Kruif said, adding that the possible lack of legitimacy of the future government was "an overall concern" for ISAF.
But he said: "From a security standpoint, I am absolutely sure we've got the concept right: 'shape, clear, hold, build'.
"We resourced the concept partially in July this year. We need to completely resource the concept. And what we need is some strategic patience. That is key," he said.
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