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Canadian general urges closer ties with Afghan tribal leaders

NATO troops in Afghanistan should learn to work more closely with the Afghan tribal leadership, Canada's top general in the country said Saturday.

NATO troops in Afghanistan should learn to work more closely with the Afghan tribal leadership, Canada's top general in the country said Saturday.

Maj.-Gen. Marc Lessard made the comments before handing over command of the NATO troops to their next leader, Maj.-Gen. Mart de Kruif of the Netherlands.

In his departing speech, Lessard said understanding tribal dynamics is crucial to gaining the peoples' trust.

"One issue that might be looked at is how we do better outreach with the Afghans," he said.  "It really, really must be explored. How we do that, I'm not too sure, but that's definitely a thing we'll look at."

U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, who recently assumed command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, may offer fresh ideas on building ties between local leaders and the government from his experience in Iraq, Lessard said.

However, Lessard cautioned that Afghanistan's tribal structure is much more complex than that of Iraq. As well, Iraq's central government is much stronger than Afghanistan's.

Some tribal elders in rural areas outside the city of Kandahar have recently said the Afghan government has contacted them about forming a local militia to help increase security in their districts. Lessard said that's a risky strategy.

 "There could be some short-term gain but I really think it's long-term pain," he said.

"We already have some militias that have not been disbanded in the southern region and they have been creating some problems. I'm not saying no, but I would be very, very leery at arming tribes."

Lessard acknowledged that his nine-month term as commander saw an increase in Taliban violence. But he maintained that the attacks —- which ranged from roadside bombs to a daring raid on Kandahar's Sarposa prison that freed hundreds of insurgents and criminals —- left little lasting impact.

 

With files from the Canadian Press