Afghan Security Forces Improving Quickly, Allen Says

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2012 — Afghan forces are improv­ing faster than coali­tion lead­ers or they them­selves antic­i­pat­ed, the com­man­der of the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force said here today.

“They real­ly are bet­ter than we thought that they would be at this point; more crit­i­cal­ly, they are bet­ter than they thought that they would be at this point,” Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen told reporters dur­ing a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence.

The tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty — now in the sec­ond of a planned five phas­es — is the linch­pin to mis­sion suc­cess in Afghanistan, Allen said. Though his top pri­or­i­ty on tak­ing com­mand in July was to keep pres­sure on the ene­my, he added, the push to devel­op Afghan army and police capa­bil­i­ties was a “very close sec­ond.”

The gen­er­al, who tes­ti­fied last week before the House and Sen­ate armed ser­vices com­mit­tees, not­ed Afghan troops’ abil­i­ties will form part of the equa­tion he uses to rec­om­mend future U.S. troop lev­els after the remain­ing 23,000 Amer­i­can “surge” forces leave Afghanistan by the end of Sep­tem­ber.

Allen said he won’t know what lev­el of com­bat pow­er is still required until the end of this year’s spring and sum­mer fight­ing sea­son. Key indi­ca­tors then, he explained, will be the state of the insur­gency, the oper­a­tional envi­ron­ment com­man­ders antic­i­pate in 2013, and the capa­bil­i­ties of the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

“It is not just a mat­ter of what to do with the remain­ing 68,000 U.S. troops,” the gen­er­al not­ed. “I must also care­ful­ly con­sid­er the com­bi­na­tion of forces in-the­ater. There will still be some 40,000 ISAF forces in the field, and increas­ing­ly capa­ble and increas­ing­ly numer­ous Afghan secu­ri­ty forces.”

His rec­om­men­da­tion will reflect a com­pos­ite num­ber of U.S., inter­na­tion­al and indige­nous forces, not an Amer­i­can force as “a sep­a­rate and dis­tinct enti­ty,” he added.

Two Afghan secu­ri­ty force mem­bers died and more than 60 were wound­ed while com­bat­ing vio­lent protests that occurred after last month’s Quran burn­ings, he said.

“I could just as eas­i­ly point to the lit­er­al­ly thou­sands of oper­a­tions, some large, some small, that they con­duct along­side ISAF troops, and often in the lead, every month as we go for­ward,” the gen­er­al told reporters.

Dur­ing the last two weeks, Afghan secu­ri­ty forces arrest­ed more than 50 insur­gents and killed around six, includ­ing sev­er­al who were plan­ning to assas­si­nate the gov­er­nor of Balkh province, Allen said. They also cap­tured sev­er­al caches of explo­sives, weapons and bomb-mak­ing mate­ri­als, he not­ed, while Afghan police mem­bers are con­tribut­ing to secu­ri­ty in cities and towns, most recent­ly dur­ing the Nowruz new year cel­e­bra­tions.

“I know peo­ple will look at these and oth­er exam­ples and say they’re anec­do­tal, that we still face real chal­lenges in attri­tion and eth­nic com­po­si­tion, even cor­rup­tion in some of the ranks,” Allen acknowl­edged. “I’m not say­ing things are per­fect, and much work remains to be done.”

The gen­er­al said for every bribe accept­ed by an Afghan troop and for every instance of so-called “green on blue” attacks pit­ting an Afghan in uni­form against a coali­tion mem­ber, “I can cite hun­dreds of oth­er exam­ples where they do per­form their duties, where the part­ner­ship is strong, the con­fi­dence of the Afghan forces is build­ing, and where the trust and con­fi­dence we have in them and that they have in them­selves grows steadi­ly.”

Allen said crit­ics nev­er will con­vince him that Afghan sol­diers and police don’t have the will to fight for their gov­ern­ment, for their coun­try and for their fel­low cit­i­zens.

“That will­ing­ness, I believe, is the thing most hope­ful about the entire effort of tran­si­tion,” he said. “They want this respon­si­bil­i­ty, they want to lead, and we’re going to help them to do that.”

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