Afghanistan''s future will be decided by the crucial battle for control of the southern part of the country where Canadian troops are located, a top NATO commander said Monday.

"The international community clearly realizes that the main military effort is in southern Afghanistan, so you need to concentrate the bulk of your forces there," Maj.-Gen. Mart de Kruif said in an interview.

"If you talk about successful elections or winning the counter-insurgency, it will be decided in southern Afghanistan."

De Kruif, who has been head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the region since last November, predicted the arrival of 17,000 U.S. troops in the area would be a major boost for coalition forces, including Canada''s, in the ongoing battle for Kandahar.

"Kandahar is the most important city," he said. "I would even say perhaps more important than Kabul, based on the history of Kandahar and its position. It is essential."

Kandahar was once a Taliban stronghold and the area that''s close to the Pakistan border still serves as a staging area of sorts for insurgents.