KABUL (AFP) - A Dutch general took command Saturday of 19,000 mostly British, Canadian, Dutch and US NATO-led soldiers in southern Afghanistan, a challenging area that has seen intense Taliban unrest. Dutch Major General Mart de Kruif replaced Canadian Major General Marc Lessard as head of the International Security Assistance Force in southern Afghanistan at a ceremony at the Kandahar Air Base. "A dynamic year lies ahead of us. The capacities and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces will increase. More coalition forces will deploy into Afghanistan," de Kruif told the event, an ISAF release said. "The voter registration process is under way and after summer next year it will be followed by the elections," he said, referring to presidential elections due around September 2009. Lessard said his nine months as commander of the south had been "at times intense". It had seen rapid development in the Afghan National Army, which had played a greater role in the planning and execution of missions, he was cited as saying in the statement. The roughly 50,000 soldiers in ISAF nationwide are helping the Afghan government to build its security forces " which were in ruins by the time the Taliban government was toppled in 2001 " as well as fight an insurgency. Lessard described the militants as "resilient" and "ruthless" and said that they had an "increased activity rate" although this had little enduring effect. Southern Afghanistan includes the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan, bastions of the Taliban and key producers of Afghanistan's illegal opium. While, after four months in Afghanistan, French Colonel Jacques Aragones says he had learned an important lesson: to effectively do battle with the Taliban, one has to be unpredictable. "We constantly change our plans, our patrol routes, our schedules, our stations, our support," says the commander of 700 French soldiers sent to Afghanistan's eastern province of Kapisa in June. Aragones has learned his lesson the hard way. Not far from here at Sarobi, the French military " in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led force " lost 10 soldiers in August when they were ambushed by dozens of Taliban fighters while on patrol. At Kapisa's Forward Operating Base in Nijrab, a fortified camp about 60 kilometres northeast of Kabul, the patrol convoys head out at all hours of the day and night. For the soldiers, the excursions are tough. They have to carry packs weighing 30 kilogram's " and sometimes more " in temperatures that are scorching in summer and icy in winter. In the rocky mountains, French troops and Taliban play cat and mouse " a game of life and death. According to Aragones, the insurgents have "watched the French, the way they behave and their reactions." Without identifying his regiment's US predecessors, the officer says the Taliban here have become used to an adversary that sticks to the main routes and close to their vehicles, and been rattled by the more pro-active French. "We go and look for them on foot and deep in the valleys," he says. The colonel says working in Kapisa is without a doubt a lot more difficult than in the Kabul region where French troops have been stationed since the end of 2001, when the Taliban regime was driven out in a US-led invasion. An experienced soldier with Aragones' 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, who has served in the French military for more than 21 years and has completed 17 tours of duty, agrees. "There is no comparison. This theatre is the most difficult, the most stressful of all those I have been to," says the sergeant who can only be identified in media reports by his first name, Laurent, under military rules. "Contacts are frequent," he says, adding that just days ago he was involved in the most violent confrontation of his career. Since arriving in Kapisa, these French reinforcements have experienced about 100 significant incidents including 40 involving combat, five bomb blasts and the discovery of arms and ammunition. Fourteen French soldiers have been wounded, four of them seriously, while about a dozen suspected insurgents have been arrested. Rebel deaths were not revealed. Faced by this kind of guerrilla fighter, which in times past was able to crush British and Soviet troops, the colonel proposes several adaptations. The next group of soldiers should all have their own night vision equipment. The French also want their own reconnaissance drones. Also on the Christmas list are "tele-operated" turrets on armoured vehicles, which will enable gunners inside to see via video the terrain outside and even shoot without having to be exposed. The troops also need transport vehicles with bullet-proofed cabins for the logistics convoys that bring in supplies from the capital on a perilous three-hour route. These are supposed to arrive by January. But for now the French have to do with the bare minimum. An example: on three occasions, a company of 150 French soldiers has had to be lifted on double-rotor Chinook helicopters from the US military because the French army does not have a even a single large transport chopper.