Afghanistan — Afghans Hopeful for Peaceful Future, U.S. Leaders Say

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2010 — U.S. mil­i­tary and civil­ian lead­ers in Afghanistan say they are more opti­mistic than ever about suc­cess there, due not only to mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment advances, but also to the chang­ing will of the Afghan peo­ple.

“The great­est hope in me resides in the indi­vid­ual Afghans and tribes I’ve worked with,” Army Brig. Gen. John W. Nichol­son Jr., direc­tor of the Joint Staff’s Pak­istan-Afghanistan coor­di­na­tion cell, told the Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee today. “A suf­fi­cient num­ber of them want this to suc­ceed, and there­fore it is pos­si­ble. You see a uni­ver­sal desire from them to improve their con­di­tions, to put these 30 years behind them, and they know this is their last best chance.”

Nichol­son tes­ti­fied along­side David Samuel Sed­ney, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for Afghanistan, Pak­istan and Cen­tral Asia; and Frank Rug­giero, the State Department’s senior civil­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the military’s Region­al Com­mand South, on lessons learned from the command’s ongo­ing offen­sive in Mar­ja, Afghanistan.

Nichol­son, a for­mer com­man­der of troops in south­ern Afghanistan who has worked in the coun­try off and on for four years, acknowl­edged that gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion remains one of Afghanistan’s biggest chal­lenges. Yet, Nichol­son said he sees hope in Afghan lead­ers such as Hel­mand Gov. Gulab Man­gal, whose sup­port he and oth­er lead­ers say is crit­i­cal to coali­tion suc­cess.

“Gov­er­nor Man­gal is one of the bet­ter gov­er­nors in Afghanistan, if not the best,” said Nichol­son, who added that he also worked with Man­gal in 2006 and 2007 when he was gov­er­nor of Pak­ti­ka province. “To me, he rep­re­sents the cal­iber of some of the Afghan lead­ers who tru­ly want this effort to suc­ceed. It’s through peo­ple like them that have made me think this is attain­able.”

Rug­giero echoed those sen­ti­ments about Ghu­lam Haider Hami­di, the may­or of Kan­da­har, where the coali­tion increas­ing­ly is focus­ing its coun­terin­sur­gency efforts. The Tal­iban “has unleashed an assas­si­na­tion cam­paign” in Afghanistan’s sec­ond-largest city, he said, where motor­cy­cle teams con­duct dri­ve-by shoot­ings of Afghan gov­ern­ment offi­cials who sup­port the coali­tion.

“They real­ly are going after what they see to be the key to our strat­e­gy, which is to build the gov­ern­ment up,” he said.

Two weeks after his deputy was killed, Hami­di put him­self at great risk to trav­el to Arghandab to remove an inef­fec­tive sub-gov­er­nor and call a meet­ing to dis­cuss why the Tal­iban had been allowed to re-enter the city, Rug­giero said. “The brav­ery and com­mit­ment of some Afghans is impres­sive,” he said.

And, Afghan offi­cials’ increas­ing brav­ery and action against the insur­gency is being mir­rored by more and more of the country’s pop­u­la­tion, U.S. offi­cials said. Nichol­son said he sees Afghanistan’s future in its young peo­ple who increas­ing­ly use tech­nol­o­gy such as cell phones and speak out for more edu­ca­tion. He not­ed the reac­tion of Afghan teenage girls who, fol­low­ing a 2008 Tal­iban attack that threw acid in the faces of girls going to school, appeared unveiled on Afghan tele­vi­sion, point­ing their fin­gers at the cam­era and telling the Tal­iban, ‘You will not deny me my edu­ca­tion.’

For the long-term suc­cess of Afghanistan, Nichol­son said, cor­rupt prac­tices don’t con­cern him as much as the government’s abil­i­ty to con­nect to its cit­i­zens. There are exam­ples of improve­ments there, too, he said, not­ing actions by the may­ors in Hel­mand and Kan­da­har, and those of a major­i­ty tribe in Nan­ga­har that pub­li­cal­ly denounced the Tal­iban. Sed­ney, who has worked in Afghanistan since 2002, said he nev­er has been more opti­mistic about its future.

“Dur­ing these eight years, I have shared your doubts,” he told a sen­a­tor who had expressed pes­simism. “But, today I am more opti­mistic than I’ve ever been about the future of Afghanistan. While there are many areas of fail­ure, there are many and grow­ing areas of suc­cess.”

In 2002, Sed­ney said, no girls and very few boys were in school. That has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly, he said.

“Today, I talk to 13- and 14-year-olds who have been to school,” he said. “Their hope for them­selves is not to be Tal­iban extrem­ists. They want to be engi­neers, and doc­tors and lawyers. There are mil­lions of them out there, and they are Afghanistan’s future.”

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