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Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance addresses a parade in Kandahar last October. Brig.-Gen. Vance is taking over Canada's mission in Kandahar after Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard was relieved of that command due to disciplinary proceedings. (MCpl Matthew McGregor)
Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance addresses a parade in Kandahar last October. Brig.-Gen. Vance is taking over Canada's mission in Kandahar after Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard was relieved of that command due to disciplinary proceedings. (MCpl Matthew McGregor)

Counterinsurgency making headway, general says Add to ...

Allied forces in Afghanistan are only now starting to see the effects of a real counterinsurgency campaign after years when Canadians fought in the tough south without enough troops to do the job, says the general who just left command in Kandahar.

Brigadier-General Jonathan Vance, who returned to Canada Monday night, said that Canadians may have perceived the war as an endless series of advances undone by setbacks, but that the conditions for enduring progress in the war haven't been there until the past year, as U.S. forces surged in.

"Although we've been in Afghanistan for a long time, and in the south since 2006, we really did not have the forces necessary to defeat the enemy using counterinsurgency tactics at the time," Brig-Gen. Vance said after landing in Ottawa.

"Canada had been there for three years, from '06 to '09, doing tremendous work - not losing. Defending the seat of government, defending against a comprehensive defeat of the Afghan security forces. Defending the city and the airhead. Keeping the conditions alive so that when a force flow did come in with the various surges that have gone on we are now … able with the resources necessary to actually deliver a full counterinsurgency effect."

"So from a counterinsurgency perspective, the war has only been fought for a short period of time."

Last week, Brig.-Gen. Vance handed over command of Canadian troops in Afghanistan to Brig.-Gen. Dean Milner - scheduled to be the last Canadian commander of combat troops in Afghanistan.

A surge of U.S. troops - an additional 30,000 into Afghanistan this year - has increased the forces in Kandahar province, once an area largely secured by Canadian troops.

The bigger numbers have allowed 20,000 to be concentrated in Kandahar, and Canadian troops are concentrating in two districts south and west of Kandahar City, Dand and Panjwai.

But after years of war in Afghanistan, Western leaders are under pressure to withdraw their troops from frustrated publics - the Dutch have left, Canadians leave next July, and U.S. President Barack Obama has said he wants troops to start withdrawing next summer. Brig.-Gen. Vance said Canadian troops can withdraw - because he's confident another force will take over.

Brig.-Gen Vance said he understands that the war appears to observers as an endless loop of "back and forth, two steps forward one step back."

But he said this is not a classic war where allied forces smash an opposing military machine on their way across a territory - but one where troops have to assert enough security to allow some growth of local life and governance. Only now do the allies have what's needed for "enduring progress."

In Dand, he said, the people are "dealing with the finer points of political assembly, organizing themselves so they have political voice, and their district government and provincial government are starting to respond in that transparent positive way that we'd like."

"And that has largely squelched out the insurgency in Dand."

Canadian Forces are making plans now that will bring that kind of advance to Panjwaii, he said. "By this time next year, Panjwaii ought to be where Dand is."

The counterinsurgency has to be measured in incremental progress in security and quality of life - what Afghans really want - and it's not easy for folks at home to follow, he said.

"I know it's hard for people to get, I really do. But we do see the progress."

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