Afghan Reintegration Efforts Grow, Official Says

WASHINGTON — Now is time for insur­gents in Afghanistan to lay their weapons down and rejoin their com­mu­ni­ties, a top NATO mil­i­tary offi­cial said today.
Speak­ing to Pen­ta­gon reporters here via video­con­fer­ence from his head­quar­ters in Kab­ul, Afghanistan, British army Maj. Gen. Phil Jones cred­it­ed recent secu­ri­ty gains through­out the coun­try for set­ting the stage for a grow­ing rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram.

“Secu­ri­ty gains have two effects. It gives the com­mu­ni­ty a con­fi­dence to sup­port [rein­te­gra­tion]. It also cre­ates an envi­ron­ment for groups to come back and rein­te­grate,” said Jones, who heads the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s force inte­gra­tion cell.

The Afghan pro­gram pro­vides sup­port to insur­gents and groups who want to for­mal­ly rein­te­grate into their com­mu­ni­ties. The pro­gram start­ed in July 2010, short­ly after the surge of 30,000 U.S. troops began arriv­ing in Afghanistan to beef up secu­ri­ty.

“The peace process sup­ports fight­ers and their com­mu­ni­ties to rejoin Afghanistan with hon­or and dig­ni­ty, pro­vid­ing they renounce vio­lence, sev­er ties with ter­ror­ist groups and live under the con­sti­tu­tion,” Jones said. “As we start to see the secu­ri­ty gains made over the autumn peri­od solid­i­fied, peo­ple get a sense that they are irre­versible.”

Jones point­ed to recent rein­te­gra­tion progress in north­west­ern Badghis province as an exam­ple of the type of suc­cess­es they have seen. The secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion there has com­plete­ly turned around for the good, he said.

He described Badghis as a poor province with vast health and edu­ca­tion defi­cien­cies that con­tributed great­ly to a grow­ing insur­gency there. The gov­ern­ment had lit­tle con­trol or influ­ence. But after step­ping up secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions and remov­ing some key insur­gents, the gov­ern­ment was afford­ed a new plat­form for change, he said.

“On the back of those secu­ri­ty gains and on the back of some real­ly excel­lent polit­i­cal out­reach, we now have some­thing like 400 armed men who have rein­te­grat­ed over the past four months,” Jones said. “And, frankly, the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion in Badghis has changed out of all recog­ni­tion.”

Jones said that coali­tion forces and Badghis gov­ern­ment lead­ers recent­ly sat down with about 40 ex-insur­gents and dis­cussed ways for­ward for peace. Also, he not­ed sim­i­lar meet­ings in Lagh­man province with about 83 recent­ly rein­te­grat­ed Tal­iban fight­ers.

Of the 25,000 insur­gents ISAF esti­mates bear arms against NATO forces and the Afghan gov­ern­ment, about 1,740 have for­mal­ly rein­te­grat­ed back into soci­ety, Jones said. Although that is only a small per­cent­age, a much larg­er progress is loom­ing, he said.

“Prob­lems still remain – absolute­ly no doubt, but there’ve been some real­ly big steps for­ward,” he said. “This is, at its heart, all about fight­ers leav­ing the fight and begin­ning to build com­mu­ni­ty cohe­sion and sta­bil­i­ty from the grass roots up.”

Rein­te­gra­tion meet­ings are now occur­ring in 15 provinces, and are like­ly to start in at least five oth­ers, he said. The recent killing of al-Qai­da leader Osama bin Laden also has had some effect, he not­ed, adding that a sev­er­al low-lev­el insur­gent groups have since shown inter­est in the pro­gram.

In addi­tion, Jones expects that as many as 2,000 fight­ers will bypass the for­mal rein­te­gra­tion process and sim­ply lay down their weapons and return home.

Still, some elders and armed fight­ers are hes­i­tant to par­tic­i­pate.

“As any of the elders will tell you, after 20 years of war and 10 years of insur­gency, Afghans will be cau­tious about com­mit­ting with their futures,” the gen­er­al said. “These are life-chang­ing deci­sions that peo­ple are mak­ing, and it is all built on trust and con­fi­dence and will only move at the speed of trust and con­fi­dence.”

Jones stressed the impor­tance of remain­ing opti­mistic and hav­ing patience with the rein­te­gra­tion efforts.

“The deficit of trust and the lack of con­fi­dence after 30 years of fight­ing here in Afghanistan is quite pro­found,” Jones said. “The deci­sions peo­ple are mak­ing are not tak­en light­ly, nor are they tak­en nec­es­sar­i­ly quick­ly. Their lives depend upon the deci­sions they make.

“We’ve got to be care­ful not to be unre­al­is­ti­cal­ly opti­mistic, but we in ISAF are see­ing a lot of poten­tial for this process to expand and accel­er­ate as it begins to have impact on many com­mu­ni­ties across Afghanistan,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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