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Asia Crisis

Building starts for extra US troops in Afghan south

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Construction work has begun to accommodate an influx of U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan, where NATO-led forces are facing the toughest fight against the Taliban, an alliance commander said on Sunday.

Up to 30,000 extra U.S. troops have been earmarked for Afghanistan starting in the spring and the commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, Major General Mart de Kruif, said his region was most in need of new fighters.

"It would surprise me if the bulk of the forces wouldn't go to RC-South ... the military main effort throughout all of Afghanistan is in the south ... it is in Helmand and Kandahar," De Kruif, who leads 18,000 mainly British, Dutch and Canadian soldiers told reporters at Kandahar airfield.

The Dutch general said building work to accommodate the extra forces has begun at Kandahar airfield, regional command headquarters of the military operations in southern Afghanistan, and at camp Bastion in Helmand, where mainly British troops are deployed.

Kandahar city was the seat of the Taliban before they were toppled by U.S. and Afghan forces in 2001 and, along with neighbouring Helmand, is considered among the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan.

"We have already started (building)... Depending on where the troops will go, we will definitely see more movement here in Kandahar airport," De Kruif said.

"There's no doubt in my mind ... that where you see the U.S. forces come there you will see a lot of infrastructure in a very short period of time," he added.

PAKISTAN MOVES

On Friday, Pakistan decided to shift some of its 100,000 troops deployed along its border with Afghanistan to the Indian border as tensions mount between the two long-time foes.

Pakistan's cooperation in combating Taliban activity on the Afghan border is a crucial part of the foreign and Afghan anti-Taliban operations on the porous, mountainous border areas, U.S. military officials have said.

However, De Kruif said that while Pakistan's stability is crucial for Afghanistan's security, the partial redeployment of Pakistani military to the eastern border with India will not affect operations in southern Afghanistan.

"At the end of the day the situation in Pakistan will influence our progress but it's not a key concern of our success," De Kruif said.

He said that while he wanted more troops under his command in the south, any military effort had to be coupled with support for improving governance and existing reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.

"I need a lot of troops everywhere, believe me. That is military sense... It is not a matter of just pouring in troops to clear an area," De Kruif added.

"If you can't bring in good governance, reconstruction and development it's just like mowing the lawn." (Editing by Sami Aboudi)

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