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NATO, Afghan Forces make "huge" gains in North

Coalition efforts in northern Afghanistan have become more relevant over the past year with the addition of new capabilities from U.S. forces, the top commander for the NATO International Security Assistance Force element in the region said today.

“I see a huge difference when I compare to 2006,” Maj. Gen. Markus Kneip of the German army, commander of Regional Command North, told Pentagon reporters in a video news conference from his headquarters in Afghanistan. “The capabilities are far more relevant to the job, [and] the incorporation of U.S. forces is making a [positive] change.”

Kneip held the same post in 2006. He commands about 12,000 troops from 16 nations, including some 6,000 U.S. soldiers, mostly from the 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team from Baumholder, Germany, and the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Carson, Colo. The addition of U.S. forces there last spring with their much-needed aviation assets improved aerial surveillance and provided attack helicopter and medical evacuation capabilities that have made a big difference, the general said.

“When U.S. troops arrived, [Regional Command North] became more active,” the general said. “Special operations forces are really [making] a difference, [and] conventional forces take no breaks and are doing a great job every day.”

The face of the fight, in terms of capabilities, changed drastically, Kneip’s deputy commander, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Sean P. Mulholland, added.

The number of Taliban and other insurgents in the area has been reduced a great deal, Mulholland said. Twelve senior Taliban leaders are gone, he added, due to the pressure placed on them by the U.S. capabilities, as well as through combined operations with Afghan forces, which are becoming more confident with each mission.

Civil capabilities such as provincial reconstruction teams, female engagement teams and programs to re-integrate insurgents back into society also are contributing to the positive trend, he said.

“Much of the Taliban in the north have cleared out and moved to Pakistan,” he said. “The difference now is that more capabilities have arrived. The populace feels good about security throughout [the north] and is pretty optimistic about the Afghans starting to take control of the government.”

Mulholland said troops in the north will continue their progress by instilling confidence in the Afghan people.

“We are engaging [local leaders and Afghans] 24/7,” he said. “There’re a lot of positive things that are happening, because we’re staying the course. We will continue to put relentless pressure on the enemy and help our partners take care of the Afghan people.”

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