- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan | A top U.S. general said he expects militant violence in Afghanistan to rise some 30 percent this winter compared with last year, but does not think insurgents have the ability to mount a massive campaign during the country’s harsh weather.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser said the U.S. will attack militant cells in areas of Afghanistan where U.S. forces in some cases haven’t operated before but where officials now realize “the enemy is seeking to remain as a rest and facilitation area in the winter.”

Winter has traditionally been seen as a down time for fighting in Afghanistan, but Gen. Schloesser said offensive operations by U.S. troops this year could dispel that notion.

U.S. troops will “take advantage of our mobility and capacity to operate in the snow and to be able to find the enemy,” he told the Associated Press on Thursday.

Militants will have the option to be “captured, killed, to reconcile or flee,” the general said. “And I think fleeing will be very hard in the winter, especially if they’re in flip-flops or sandals.”

In January 2007, U.S. airstrikes killed some 120 militants crossing the border on foot from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and a video of the attack taken by a drone showed that many of the insurgents - who were walking single-file through mountainous terrain - were barefoot.

Gen. Schloesser said he thinks militants are now better equipped with boots and sleeping bags but don’t have the ability to conduct complex operations in deep snow or freezing weather.

Violence in Afghanistan is up about 30 percent this year compared with 2007, according to the U.S. military, and Gen. Schloesser said he expects that trend to continue through the winter.

The Taliban and associated militant groups like al Qaeda have steadily stepped up attacks in the last several years. More American soldiers have died in Afghanistan already this year than in any year since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion. At least 127 Americans have died, as have 99 from other coalition countries.

Gen. Schloesser said the U.S. military will “redouble” efforts this winter to persuade Afghans to pledge their allegiance to the central government by increasing road construction, school building and other aid projects. He said the military spent $480 million on such projects this fiscal year, up from $250 million last fiscal year.

The military has requested $680 million for such projects in the upcoming fiscal year, he said.

Gen. Schloesser said a one-star U.S. general from the United States has been investigating a U.S. Special Forces strike on the western town of Azizabad on Aug. 22 that the Afghan government and U.N. say killed 90 civilians.

The original U.S. military investigation found that up to 35 militants and seven civilians were killed in the raid on Azizabad, but the military reopened the investigation after gruesome images emerged showing what appeared to be many more civilian deaths.

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