Time running out for Taliban insurgents: commander

Time is running out for Taliban insurgents to decide whether to reintegrate into Afghan society, Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan told CBC News on Thursday.
'They cannot hide from us,' Brig.-Gen. Daniel Ménard, commander of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, said Thursday of Taliban insurgents. ((CBC))

Time is running out for Taliban insurgents to decide whether to reintegrate into Afghan society, Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan told CBC News on Thursday.

A recent surge in troop levels in southern Afghanistan means insurgents "cannot hide anymore," said Brig.-Gen. Daniel Ménard, the commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan, which is based in Kandahar and includes more than 2,800 Canadian troops.

"We are 24/7 present," Ménard said. "We live with the population. We have eyes everywhere, day and night. So they cannot hide from us, and they know this."

The extra troops are part of a 30,000-soldier surge that U.S. President Barack Obama announced in December.

"Where we used to have a small company, we now have a full battalion plus," said Ménard. "So 100 people, 50 people in the past, now we have five, six, seven, 800 people.

"So you're talking about a whole different ballgame for us but more importantly for them," he said.

British PM announces reintegration fund

A former Taliban militant surrenders his machine gun to the Afghan government as part of a peace-reconciliation program in Herat, west of Kabul on March 10, 2009. ((Fraidoon Pooyaa/Associated Press))

Ménard's comments came hours after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on Thursday the establishment of an international fund to be used to reintegrate Taliban fighters.

"We are today establishing an international trust fund to finance this Afghan-led peace and reintegration program to provide an economic alternative to those who have none," Brown said as he kicked off a 70-country conference in London on the future of Afghanistan. 

"But for those insurgents who refuse to accept the conditions for reintegration, we have no choice but to pursue them militarily," he said.

In their final communiqué, world leaders pledged funds for the plan but offered no specific figures, although the program has been estimated at around $500 million US. 

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who is also attending the conference, said the government has not yet decided whether it will contribute to the fund.

"We support the reintegration in essence, in principle we support that," he told CBC News. "As to … whether or not Canada will put dollars and cents into that fund that has been created, that’s something else. We’ll look at the parameters."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not say how much her country would contribute to the fund, but she said the U.S. military has been "authorized to use substantial funds to support the effort."

Clinton said the U.S. would support the fund if insurgents agree to cut their ties to al-Qaeda and support democracy.

Reach out to 'disenchanted brothers': Karzai

An Afghan policeman searches men before they enter a polling station in Kandahar to vote on Aug. 20, 2009. A new fund will be used to integrate former Taliban fighters back into Afghan society in order to reduce the need for military action.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also speaking at the conference, said he hopes the council will bring in "disenchanted" Afghans.

Karzai said, "We must reach out to all of our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers, who are not part of al-Qaeda or other terrorist networks, who accept Afghanistan's constitution."

"To make our program a success, we hope that His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia will kindly play a prominent role to guide and assist the peace process," Karzai said. "We ask all our neighbours, particularly Pakistan, to support our peace and reconciliation endeavours."

Focusing on security, Karzai said he hopes Afghans will be able to take over security of their country in the next five years.

Civilian casualties a concern

He said during the next two to three years, his government intends to focus on gradually assuming the responsibility of security in greater parts of the country. Karzai said that would leave international forces to focus on economic development and rebuilding.

"We will spare no effort and sacrifice to lead security of our country within the next five years all over Afghanistan," he said.

The communiqué said handover of security responsibilities would begin this year, with the Afghan National Army "conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years."

Karzai said civilian casualties continue to be a great concern and that the protection of lives and property should be at the top of the agenda.

He said night raids should be minimized and take place only under special circumstances and be conducted by Afghan forces.

"We must ensure the monopoly of the Afghan state over the use of force. This cannot be achieved unless we bring the non-state security contractors and firms under control and in line with the laws of Afghanistan."

With files from The Associated Press