WASHINGTON, March 18, 2011 — Afghanistan’s government and other societal institutions will determine the country’s long-term stability, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces there said today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus capped a week of congressional testimony and meetings with a question-and-answer session at the Newseum here focusing on Afghanistan’s future.
There’s only one way to achieve the core objective of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries in Afghanistan, Petraeus said, and that’s helping that nation develop the capability to secure and govern itself to “an adequate degree.”
“We’re not trying to turn the country into Switzerland in 10 years or less,” the general added.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force has a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign under way in Afghanistan to spur needed development, Petraeus said, but long-term stability must rest on an Afghan framework.
Senior ministers in the Afghan government are “by and large … very impressive,” he said, noting that most are Western-educated and technologically sophisticated by regional standards, and many are reformers.
The political structure in Afghanistan has significant constraints, Petraeus said, adding that while the nation’s constitution gives the executive branch a lot of power, President Hamid Karzai is not as all-powerful as might be thought.
“He [constantly has] to shore up his political foundation, which consists of considerations for both ethnic and sectarian dynamics in the country,” he said.
The major challenges facing the Afghan government are the human capital in the institutions themselves, and the criminal networks challenging them, the general said.
Afghanistan already was one of the world’s poorest countries before it suffered 30 years of war, Petraeus said, and “the human capital, of course, left the country.”
A number of educated Afghans have returned, he said, but “not enough to populate these large institutions, these large ministries, to the extent necessary.”
Increasing that human capital is “the key to building institutions to which we can transition very important tasks for the Afghan people,” the general said.
The second challenge to effective Afghan government, Petraeus said, is what he and Karzai call “criminal patronage networks.”
“These are individuals who are crooks,” Petraeus said. “They are breaking the law, they enjoy a degree of political protection … and they are parts of networks.” An example is the former Afghan surgeon general who is the subject of a joint Afghan-ISAF investigation, he said.
The man was found to be stealing drugs, selling them and replacing them with counterfeits, the general said.
“As this was laid out for [Karzai] … he fired him on the spot,” Petraeus said. “He then fired the chain of command of the national military hospital.” There are other, similar cases pending that will be “big tests,” he added.
Afghan army and police forces also are essential to their country’s long-term self-sufficiency, the general said, and literacy, ethnic balance and “a culture of service” are on the rise among those institutions.
Military recruiting in southern districts has increased considerably, Petraeus said, partly reflecting improved security in much of that region.
“Young men can actually raise their hand, join the military, and not end up with their families killed or kidnapped or intimidated,” he said.
ISAF is past the point of simply training Afghan infantry battalions, the general said.
“This is about building branch schools and centers … [and] so called-enablers,” he explained. “It’s about building logistics, maintenance, artillery, armor, aviation -– fixed-wing and rotary-wing –- military intelligence, military police [and] transportation.”
Until Afghan forces have all of those capabilities, Petraeus said, they cannot sustain and support themselves. “That’s the focus of this year and next year,” he said.
ISAF forces are also “finally biting the bullet and doing something we probably should have done years ago … help with literacy training for [Afghan] soldiers and police,” the general said.
Now, Afghan recruits get first-grade level literacy training with their basic military or police training, and more literacy instruction as they become more senior, Petraeus said. The Afghan national military academy’s last class, he said, had four applicants for every slot.
“And by the way, they did the admissions process this year by numbers, not by names, so there could be no linkage” with tribe or other connection, the general said. The number of Afghan-run schools and markets is rising, Petraeus said, which is essential for the nation’s developing economy.
“Clearly, [Afghanistan’s government must also] begin the process of exploiting, for the Afghan people, the trillions of dollars in minerals that are in the ground in Afghanistan,” he said.
The country will need to develop “the extractive technology, human capital, value chain, transportation chain and so forth –- but that can come over time,” the general said.
The international community will economically support Afghanistan in some capacity even beyond 2014’s security transfer, Petraeus said, but “in a very different character, and certainly at lower levels, than we are providing right now.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)