Afghanistan Gains Come at High Price, General Says

WASHINGTON — U.S. and coali­tion troops in south­west­ern Afghanistan have made sig­nif­i­cant gains in recent months, but not with­out sac­ri­fice, the com­man­der of NATO’s region­al com­mand south­west there said today.

None of these advances have come easy. A steep price has been paid in coali­tion blood – not only in U.S. and U.K. blood, but in the blood of all of our coali­tion part­ners,” Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mills told Pen­ta­gon reporters here dur­ing a video news con­fer­ence from his head­quar­ters in Afghanistan.

Mills high­light­ed secu­ri­ty improve­ments, increased capa­bil­i­ties of Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, and the dis­dain local Afghans show for the Tal­iban and oth­er extrem­ists.

Troops from 47 nations make up NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force. Near­ly 100,000 U.S. troops are oper­at­ing in Afghanistan, includ­ing almost all of the addi­tion­al 30,000 troops Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma ordered in Decem­ber 2009. Coali­tion con­tri­bu­tions are just short of 50,000.

This year, Mills said, is pan­ning out to be the dead­liest for inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan. There have been 493 coali­tion deaths through today — 30 few­er than last year’s total, he said. U.S. troops, he added, account­ed for 326 deaths this year in Afghanistan, nine more than the pre­vi­ous year.

The Afghan pop­u­lace also has paid a heavy price, Mills said. Afghan civil­ians, he said, have been caught in between coali­tion and mil­i­tant cross­fire. Tal­iban and oth­er insur­gent forces in Hel­mand province, he added, have plant­ed road­side bombs and launched attacks with­out regard for poten­tial civil­ian deaths or injuries.

That takes a large, trag­ic toll on [the Afghan pop­u­la­tion], on the inno­cent chil­dren, the inno­cent women and the inno­cent men who live here in the province.”

How­ev­er, morale among Mill’s troops and the pop­u­la­tion seems to be on the rise, he said.

Today, bazaars, mar­kets, schools and oth­er projects are oper­a­tional in towns through­out Hel­mand province, Mills said, as increased secu­ri­ty has fanned the Afghan populace’s dis­tain for Tal­iban edicts and crim­i­nal activ­i­ty. Only months ago, he said, many of the province’s cities were hotbeds for the drug trade and weapons traf­fick­ing.

Mean­while, Afghan sol­diers and police are becom­ing more capa­ble each day, Mills said, and coali­tion troops are notic­ing signs of wear and tear among the Tal­iban. Months of hard work and patience are pay­ing off in Mar­ja and Hel­mand province, he not­ed.

I can tell you that the morale of the troops remains high,” Mills said. “They remain focused on the mis­sion. They remain com­mit­ted to the task at hand.

[But] I’d be remiss not to rec­og­nize the sac­ri­fice of our Afghan part­ners as well,” he con­tin­ued. “Their secu­ri­ty forces pay a high price each day, but each day they become more capa­ble and more skilled and more ready to take on the secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ties for them­selves in the months ahead.”

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

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