Afghanistan — Rodriguez Describes Changes to Operations in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, July 7, 2010 — The com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Joint Com­mand in Afghanistan has made changes to improve com­mand and con­trol in the key province of Hel­mand.

Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez also spoke about the civ­il-mil­i­tary coop­er­a­tion and lessons learned from the Mar­ja cam­paign in Hel­mand.

A Marine bat­tal­ion will replace British forces in the strate­gic town of San­gin along the Hel­mand Riv­er, Rodriguez said dur­ing a tele­con­fer­ence with Pen­ta­gon reporters today. “The British are com­mit­ting their the­ater reserve for the next sev­er­al months into the cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley to increase the secu­ri­ty zones in the cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley,” he said. A Geor­gian bat­tal­ion — a new addi­tion to the ISAF coali­tion — also is mov­ing into the area, the gen­er­al added.

“This is done to clean up the com­mand and con­trol [sit­u­a­tion],” the gen­er­al said. When all is done, U.S. Marines will be in the north­ern and south­ern parts of the province, the British will be con­cen­trat­ed in cen­tral Hel­mand, and the Geor­gian bat­tal­ion will be in the west.

Rodriguez told reporters that there has been progress in and around Mar­ja – an agri­cul­tur­al city that had been occu­pied by the Tal­iban for three years. “The crit­i­cal things down in the dis­tricts are the deliv­ery of ser­vices from the gov­ern­ment and the secu­ri­ty pro­vid­ed by the police, sup­port­ed by the army,” he said.

The pop­u­la­tion is becom­ing more involved with their local gov­ern­ments and rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cils, Rodriguez said.

“As secu­ri­ty grows and as the con­fi­dence of the peo­ple grows, it will become more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole dis­trict of Mar­ja,” he said. “They are on an upward tra­jec­to­ry to move to that now, but they do not have a ful­ly rep­re­sen­ta­tive coun­cil yet. But they are par­tic­i­pat­ing in the coun­cil meet­ings and the shu­ra meet­ings. … And we look for­ward to that con­tin­u­al grow­ing con­fi­dence as they improve the secu­ri­ty.”

It is a hard fight in the region. The Tal­iban have launched a mur­der and intim­i­da­tion cam­paign to kill the com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers. Patience is need­ed to effect change in the region, Rodriguez said, adding that the com­mand and the Afghan gov­ern­ment learned lessons from the fight in Mar­ja that can be applied to the larg­er cam­paign in and around Kan­da­har – Afghanistan’s sec­ond-largest city and the spir­i­tu­al home of the Tal­iban.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment also learned many lessons from the expe­ri­ence, he added.

“Most of them had to do with pri­or plan­ning, prepa­ra­tion, set­ting the polit­i­cal con­text and com­mu­ni­cat­ing ear­ly with the peo­ple,” Rodriguez said. “When we went into Mar­ja, … we had not planned long enough in advance. We had done it kind of in a sequence, ver­sus a par­al­lel effort, so it was a lit­tle bit slow­er to get the gov­ern­ment ser­vices and the devel­op­ment in there that we want­ed.”

He said the expe­ri­ence caused the gov­ern­ment to begin the polit­i­cal engage­ment and the con­sul­ta­tions with the peo­ple much ear­li­er in Kan­da­har province.

“The pres­i­dent of Afghanistan has already been down there twice, and is going there again short­ly,” he said. “And the involve­ment of the peo­ple and the prepa­ra­tions of the Afghan gov­ern­ment to best sup­port the peo­ple of Kan­da­har are way ahead of what they were in cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley, because of the lessons learned from all dur­ing those oper­a­tions.” It remains a hard fight in Afghanistan, the gen­er­al acknowl­edged, and allied casu­al­ties have risen. June was the dead­liest month for coali­tion troops since the war began.

“The sol­diers, sailors, air­men, Marines … are incred­i­bly com­mit­ted to what they’re doing,” Rodriguez said. “They’re incred­i­bly com­mit­ted to each oth­er, to take care of each oth­er and take care of the mis­sion. And their morale remains high as they go into some of the tough­est places and the tough­est fights that we’ve been in because of going right at the Tal­iban sup­port bases. So their morale con­tin­ues to be high.”

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