Afghan Institutions Making Strides, Petraeus Says

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)

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