KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Canada’s campaign against Taliban insurgents is in for an overhaul under a new commander who’s concerned with the deteriorating security situation in Kandahar city and facing the prospect of taking more American forces under his wing.
As he took over Thursday for Brig. Gen. Jonathan Vance as head of Task Force Kandahar, Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard said he plans to increase troop levels in the province’s dangerous capital — a marked shift from the existing strategy of focusing on rural areas southwest of the city.
“Currently, stabilization is underway outside of the city,” Menard said following a change-of-command ceremony at Kandahar Airfield.
“But we also have to make sure we don’t forget about the city.”
Menard said he expects his efforts to secure Kandahar city will be bolstered by the further addition of U.S. troops, who are likely to fall under Canadian command.
Up to four more U.S. “units” could be assigned to the Canadian task force, Menard said, although he didn’t elaborate. Canadian military officials refused to clarify how many U.S. troops that would include.
“With the arrival of other U.S. units, I need to integrate them,” he said, noting he will have to integrate both American troops already in the field and those coming from the U.S.
The NATO general in charge of southern Afghanistan, Nick Carter, is expected to issue orders by Monday that could significantly change the territory and resources under Menard’s control.
“This is critical for me in order to move forward,” said Menard. “Number of troops does make a difference.”
Menard later issued a statement that attempted to play down his expectations regarding the deployment of U.S. forces in Kandahar.
“I don’t want to get ahead of my commander with respect to any changes he may choose to make in the organization of Regional Command South,” said the statement, issued through a public affairs officer.
Without an increase in troop numbers, Menard will be hard-pressed to at once clamp down on violence in Kandahar city and maintain Vance’s so-called “model-village” approach, which has been the subject of much praise from Canada’s NATO allies.
“There is much that others can learn from what the Canadian task force has achieved in the last nine months,” Carter said during the ceremony.
“Canada had provided a model of how modern counter-insurgency should be prosecuted.”
Under Vance, Canada’s area of responsibility shrank by more than half last summer with a surge in U.S. troops.
He took the opportunity to concentrate Canadian efforts in a series of villages in Dand district, which saw a drop in insurgent activity during his tenure.
But Menard acknowledged the possibility that ISAF headquarters could once again enlarge Canada’s area of operation.
“Is that a possibility? Certainly,” he said. “I am expecting some orders over the next two days.”
There are compelling reasons for devoting more attention to insurgent activity in Afghanistan’s second-largest city.
Earlier this month, American forces discovered 500,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, the illegal fertilizer used in most homemade bombs in Afghanistan, in a pair of raids in the southern part of the city.
Canadian military-police mentoring teams, meanwhile, believe the Taliban is using the city’s northern areas as a hideout and staging ground for attacks against coalition forces.
“We will be putting a lot of emphasis on Kandahar city,” Menard said. “Kandahar city, for me, remains centre of gravity. It is certainly key terrain and it needs to be taken care of.”
U.S. military planners are reportedly disenchanted with the current ISAF approach in the city of 800,000 people, which is to entrust much of the security to the Afghan National Police.
Menard is the sixth commander of the Canadian task force in Kandahar. There are close to 2,800 troops under his command.