KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Mounting casualties and unprecedented numbers of roadside bomb attacks are more a reflection of increased activity by the international coalition than a sign of a strengthening insurgency, Canada's top soldier in Afghanistan says.
In fact, Brig.-Gen. Jonathan Vance says, the Taliban-led insurgency is in "disarray."
"Yes, there are times when we take killed or wounded in action, but it pales in comparison to the killed and wounded that the insurgency has taken when facing us," said Vance, commander of Canada's joint task force Kandahar.
"Part of the reason for their disarray is that much of their leadership has been eradicated," Vance said in a weekend interview with The Canadian Press.
Based on polls and informal feedback, Vance said, the security situation in Kandahar province has improved since February 2008.
Both the Afghan army and national police force are showing an increased ability to function effectively on their own, while some areas - such as the largely peaceful Dand district just south of Kandahar city - are rendering the insurgency irrelevant, Vance said.
The comments come against a backdrop of an increasingly bloody confrontation between the uniformed soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force and insurgents.
Effective roadside bomb attacks on coalition forces - those that kill or injure - have more than tripled over the past two years and have set monthly records for the past four months, according to the Pentagon's Joint IED Defeat Organization.
Last month, 23 coalition troops were killed - among them two Canadians - while a third Canadian died this month of injuries sustained in a June explosion. More British soldiers have now died in Afghanistan than have in Iraq.
Several other Canadian soldiers were wounded in June, although the Canadian military refuses to provide statistics.
Vance, a 45-year-old married father of a five-year-old, said the higher casualty figures reflect the fact that coalition forces are taking the battle into Taliban strongholds in unprecedented numbers.
"They are going to places where the insurgency hasn't been attacked in force before and in the process of doing that, your soldiers get hurt and killed - at a rate far lower, I might add, than the Taliban."
Overall, the total number of incidents involving roadside bombs reached 736 in June, up from 234 in June 2007. Incidents include attacks that kill or wound coalition troops, ineffective attacks as well as improvised explosive devices that are found and neutralized.
"IEDs are dangerous," Vance said. "I'm not downplaying the fact that the insurgency has used them to effect against us. I hate IEDs. But it's not going to stop us."
The general, who visits his troops in the field, has had close and personal encounters with the roadside bombs himself - including one that killed one of his bodyguards a few weeks ago.
Vance said the often grim news surrounding casualties makes it more difficult to see the gains that have been made by the coalition.
However, he did concede the allied forces have yet to break the back of the insurgency. "Words like stalemate or standoff are near reflective," he said.
At this stage, he said, it is critical for the international community, particularly the Americans, to focus heavily on Afghanistan. The current number of soldiers on the ground isn't enough to speed up the gradual progress that is being made.
The general said Canadians have to remember progress in the war cannot be measured by the number of soldiers killed, because the purpose of the mission is to protect Afghans and help the country onto its feet.
That, he said, would be an enormous challenge even without the insurgency.
"It's a shattered place - physically, morally, broken - but has shown in the past the ability to rebound," he said.
"I see the ability to rebound present, and the potential, everywhere I go."