Tuesday, May 1, 2007.
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A British general took over command of operations in southern Afghanistan Tuesday morning, assuming control of the area where 2,500 Canadians are deployed.
In his incoming address Maj. Gen. Jacko Page said he plans to continue to focus "not just on short-term gains against extremists, but the long-term prosperity and stability of Afghanistan" as well.
Page replaces Maj. Gen. Ton Van Loon, who commanded Regional Command South since Nov. 1 when he took over from Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser.
Page said things are currently going well in the area, but challenges still remain. That in mind, he made clear he wants to continue to emphasize the importance of development as well as security.
"While security is a critical part of the equation, ensuring development can take place to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans will remain a priority in the south," he said.
"It is my hope, it is my belief that during my time as Commander Regional Command south I can build on our previous successes and continue to make real, tangible progress."
From a podium atop a flatbed military truck, Page said the continued training and building of Afghanistan's local army and police forces - considered a vital component of the effort to rebuild the war-ravaged country - would remain a top priority for coalition forces.
"They have already shown themselves to be a courageous and potent force," Page said. "Their bravery on the battlefield has the respect and admiration of every ISAF soldier."
Page, who will spend the next six months in command of RC South, said the coalition will remain focused on providing the security necessary for development in the region to continue.
He cited in particular the current coalition effort to flush the Taliban out of the Sangin River valley, which includes Operation Silicon, a British-led offensive which began in Helmand province on Monday. Part of the goal is to allow reconstruction work to continue on the valuable Kajaki hydroelectric dam, Page said.
"Whether it be roads, better water supplies or electricity, development can only happen if the security conditions are right," Page said. "All, therefore, have an interest in security."
In his outgoing speech, Maj.-Gen. Ton van Loon, who took over command of RC South from Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, borrowed a metaphor from his predecessor as he compared the rebuilding effort in Afghanistan to a river made of "many single drops." Van Loon said the people of southern Afghanistan are slowly growing more confident as they emerge from beneath the waning influence of the Taliban, and some are feeling more free to speak out against the insurgency.
"Success in southern Afghanistan can be seen when religious scholars and elders feel safe enough to freely express their disdain for Taliban militants, and . . . to publicly state that Taliban extremists can no longer be referred to as Muslims due to their ruthless actions," van Loon said.
There are even indications that Taliban insurgents are being driven out of villages by the locals themselves, with minimal help from coalition forces, he said.
"There are reports where the Taliban are being pushed out of communities by the people of Afghanistan themselves, with only a little help from ISAF and Afghan security forces," he said.
"The people of Afghanistan making that decision to support their government is yet another sign of progress."
There are more than 10,000 troops from eight nations, including Canada, operating in the southern part of Afghanistan.,