Afghanistan — Report Notes Afghanistan Developments, Challenges

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2010 — Sta­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan is no longer on the decline, and most Afghans believe that despite increased vio­lence, secu­ri­ty actu­al­ly has improved since this time last year, accord­ing to a new report Pen­ta­gon offi­cials sent to Con­gress today.

The con­gres­sion­al­ly man­dat­ed Report on Progress Toward Secu­ri­ty and Sta­bil­i­ty in Afghanistan attrib­ut­es the 87 per­cent increase in vio­lence from Feb­ru­ary 2009 to March 2010 large­ly to increased U.S., coali­tion and Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty force activ­i­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly into areas where they pre­vi­ous­ly had not oper­at­ed.

The report, which cov­ers the sit­u­a­tion on the ground from Oct. 1 to March 31, cites progress in Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s strat­e­gy aimed at dis­rupt­ing, dis­man­tling and defeat­ing al-Qai­da in Afghanistan and Pak­istan. But it offers what a senior defense offi­cial speak­ing on b ack­ground called a sober­ing assess­ment of the con­di­tions on the ground, and a recog­ni­tion of the impor­tance of what hap­pens with­in the next six months in deter­min­ing the direc­tion the oper­a­tion ulti­mate­ly will take.

Despite increased vio­lence, the report notes that the down­ward trend in sta­bil­i­ty appears to have stemmed, along with Tal­iban momen­tum. But it’s far too soon to say the cor­ner has been turned, the offi­cial told reporters.

“We are on the cusp,” he said. “We are no longer mov­ing in the wrong direc­tion.” He cit­ed signs that he said indi­cate “we are mov­ing in the right direc­tion.”

U.S., coali­tion and Afghan forces activ­i­ty has played a major role in chang­ing that dynam­ic as they extend their reach into more Afghanistan dis­tricts, the offi­cial said. He expressed hope that their pop­u­la­tion-cen­tric tac­tics will help to sway more Afghans toward sup­port­ing the demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed Afghan gov­ern­ment. That, in turn, could serve as a ful­crum that could “change the dynam­ic of the whole coun­try,” he added.

As of March 31, about 87,000 U.S. forces were on the ground in Afghanistan, with addi­tion­al forces to bring that num­ber to 98,000 by August. In addi­tion, 46,500 inter­na­tion­al forces are serv­ing in Afghanistan, with 38 coun­tries pledg­ing about 9,000 more troops to sup­port oper­a­tions, tac­tics and train­ing. As of March 31, 40 per­cent of those addi­tion­al troops had arrived in the coun­try.

The report cites require­ments that inter­na­tion­al part­ners have not filled – pri­mar­i­ly for train­ers and men­tors to sup­port devel­op­ment of Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, par­tic­u­lar­ly the police force, which lags behind the Afghan army.

The defense offi­cial cit­ed addi­tion­al inter­na­tion­al troop com­mit­ments since the report closed March 31, includ­ing 20 to 30 per­cent more insti­tu­tion­al train­ers.

But while NATO allies and part­ners are “cau­tious­ly opti­mistic” about suc­cess of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force mis­sion, many nation­al lead­ers express con­cerns about dwin­dling pop­u­lar sup­port for the mis­sion with­in their coun­tries, the report not­ed.

As of March 31, the Afghans had field­ed about 113,000 army troops and 102,000 nation­al police offi­cers. They are broad­ly on track to meet tar­get­ed growth fig­ures of 134,000 for the army and 109,000 for the police by Octo­ber, the report said, and 171,600 sol­diers and 134,000 police offi­cers by Octo­ber 2011.

Anoth­er report the Defense Depart­ment sent Con­gress today — the U.S. Plan for Sus­tain­ing the Afghanistan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces — cites con­tin­ued improve­ments in build­ing capac­i­ty as well as end strength in these forces. It notes new ini­tia­tives dur­ing the past year designed to speed up this process, includ­ing orga­ni­za­tion­al changes to the NATO com­mand struc­ture to improve uni­ty of com­mand and embed­ding inter­na­tion­al forces with Afghan secu­ri­ty forces at all lev­els to pro­mote men­tor­ship and lead­er­ship devel­op­ment.

The report rec­og­nizes that for Afghan forces to be pre­pared to take the secu­ri­ty lead, oth­er ele­ments also must be in place — gov­er­nance, courts, judges, pros­e­cu­tors and cor­rec­tion­al capac­i­ty, among them.

The Afghanistan secu­ri­ty and sta­bil­i­ty report also acknowl­edges that Obama’s Afghanistan strat­e­gy requires increased civil­ian as well as mil­i­tary capac­i­ty. The State Depart­ment has tripled its civil­ians on the ground since Jan­u­ary 2009, to 339, to sup­port the gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment goals in Afghanistan that are crit­i­cal to sus­tain­ing improve­ments in the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion, the report said.

“It’s not all about secu­ri­ty,” the defense offi­cial told reporters. “It’s about what secu­ri­ty enables.”

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