Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, Regional Command South and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, holds a press conference from RC-South headquarters Friday at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. Journalists from North Country media asked the general questions via video teleconferencing equipment at division headquarters.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Maj. Gen. James L. Terry, Regional Command South and 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, gave northern New York media a live progress report March 18 through a video teleconference from his post in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he marshals an international coalition of soldiers in the country's decisive southern region.

"I will tell you that we have made progress," Terry said. "I think that progress is fragile ... but it has improved significantly over the last nine to 10 months."

The general said it has been a tough struggle to rout insurgents and slow their momentum. In local districts, Taliban fighters have used mud walls, vineyard trellises and pomegranate orchards to conceal and entrench themselves in terrains throughout the Zhari District and neighboring districts in northern Kandahar Province.

He called them "complex web defenses," undetectable from the air, and even more fortified by minefields fashioned with homemade bombs.

"It required very complex and a wide area of clearance operations to get into these safe havens," he said. "(They served as) support areas for the Taliban to project themselves, either into the city, or onto (the main highways), or the road going up into Oruzgan," to control the population's freedom of movement.

"Of course," Terry added, "it is the people (whom) the Taliban want to control."

A key to the counterinsurgency has been in maintaining an operational tempo that keeps insurgents off balance, Terry noted.

As coalition forces have cleared and secured key districts in Kandahar, the next step was re-establishing representative governance at the local level. Before insurgents came in and displaced them, tribal surahs traditionally, and competently, governed these villages, Terry said.

"(It's) unique to see a lot of our young leadership out there that really understands how to go into a village, assess the village, talk to the village elders, find out who is responsible for the irrigation, who the mullah is at the mosque, find out who is in charge of security, and then re-establish this basic (traditional) framework of (governance)," the general said. "We've been very good at getting the right leadership at the district level."

Known as the birthplace of the Taliban, Kandahar Province is also home to Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president. Coalition leaders consider the region a keystone to southern Afghanistan, the Pashtun people and Kandahar City.

In Regional Command South - which includes 42 districts in the provinces of Daykundi, Zabul, Oruzgan and Kandahar - Terry commands more than 23,000 troops from 16 nations. That accounts for nearly 20 percent of the total 132,000 troops currently assigned to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Although not directly under Regional Command South, roughly 29,000 ANSF troops partner with NATO-led operations.

U.S. generals lead coalition forces in Regional Command East, Regional Command South and Regional Command Southwest. Regional Command West and Regional Command North are led by an Italian general and a German general, respectively.

There is also a Regional Command Capital led by a Turkish general in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Five years ago, Terry spent time in this same area during a division deployment. Since assuming command Nov. 2, he said the most notable difference is the progress of district-level leadership and Afghan National Security Forces capabilities.

"The Afghan National Police have become very important, because in any insurgency they are the security force that stays (behind) to protect the population," he said. "So we are working to professionalize the police and then continue to grow the capability of the Afghan National Army."

He said Afghan police recently recruited 1,200 new members while ANA forces in Zabul independently seized 20,000 pounds of homemade explosives, bomb-making materials and heavy machine guns.

Also since his arrival, Terry said two electric plants have opened on the east and west sides of Kandahar City, each capable of producing 10 megawatts of power. In addition, agricultural advances in rural areas helped ship 40 metric tons of pomegranate in the past year.

"We are starting to see business activity pick up," Terry noted. "We are encouraging, as much as possible, to get more private security investment that keeps the momentum going. I think that over time, as the economy starts to kick in, you will see more insurgents silently reintegrate."

In another promising sign of progress in Afghanistan, 50 former insurgents laid down their weapons and reintegrated into society in the past three weeks.

The current deployment marks the 10th Mountain Division's fourth time in Afghanistan. The division also once deployed to Iraq.

Terry said he eagerly anticipates the arrival of 3rd Brigade Combat Team in Kandahar next month.

"I don't have a single 10th Mountain unit under me right now," he said. "It will be good to see that patch out there.'

During the teleconference, Terry took a minute to commend the work of Col. Willard Burleson, 1st Brigade Combat Team commander, who recently returned to Fort Drum from Regional Command North, a large area that borders China in the east and Uzbekistan in the west.

"They did a great job up there," Terry said. "First of all, when you consider the sheer size of Regional Command North ... you have to focus your efforts based on intelligence.

"It's a little bit of a different fight as you go around Afghanistan," he added. "Up there, it's a little more dispersed, so you have to go out and find the (insurgents)."

Terry noted that repelling the Taliban's upcoming spring offensive, which usually begins in May and climbs through October, could be easier this year. With more coalition forces on the ground and insurgents losing terrain, he said the opposition will have to resort to intimidation and spectacular attacks on infrastructure or key government officials.

"If they want to come back into it and contest it, they will have to fight for it now, which is quite different from last year," Terry said, adding that the local Afghan population feels safer if they know coalition forces will see the fight to the end.

"I think the perception of security in the minds of the local Afghan population is the first critical step in creating a link back to government and in creating a potentially more productive and prosperous life for the Afghans and their families, he said.

In addition to its military strength, Terry's command is supported by civilians from international non-governmental organizations and agencies like the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Agency for International Development.

He said working with partners to get good leadership at the district levels can "bring the population around."

"We're really approaching this from the local level up to the district, and then working to connect from the province down," he said. "Thirty years of war has taken a toll on Afghanistan. Getting the institutions rebuilt is a key."

Page last updated Wed March 23rd, 2011 at 17:01