Allen: Spring, Summer Operations Will be ‘Unique’

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 — Spring and sum­mer will offer “unique oper­a­tional con­di­tions” in Afghanistan as the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion there gains momen­tum, the com­man­der of the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force said here yes­ter­day.

In remarks at the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen said the U.S. force will return to a pre-surge lev­el of about 68,000 by the end of Sep­tem­ber, while more Afghan army and police units move into the lead secu­ri­ty role.

At the same time, he not­ed, the main coun­terin­sur­gency effort will begin to shift from the south­ern provinces to the east, which offers “a dif­fer­ent kind of insur­gency.”

“We had some pret­ty good suc­cess last year in the south, in par­tic­u­lar in Kan­da­har and in the cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er Val­ley,” the gen­er­al said. “We’ll be seek­ing to lever­age that suc­cess this year by con­sol­i­dat­ing our hold in the south while we’ll con­tin­ue to employ our com­bat pow­er in the east — in a coun­terin­sur­gent mode, obvi­ous­ly — to take care of the insur­gency as it has con­tin­ued to boil in the east.”

The Haqqani net­work is most active in the east­ern provinces along the Pak­istan bor­der, while insur­gents in the south have pri­mar­i­ly come from the Quet­ta Shu­ra Tal­iban. Allen said 2011 oper­a­tions against the Haqqani net­work, along with infor­ma­tion gath­ered from cap­tured senior mem­bers of the group, indi­cate they will attempt high-pro­file sui­cide attacks and assas­si­na­tions, some inside the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul.

“We’re going to spend a good bit of time con­cen­trat­ing on that net­work this com­ing spring and sum­mer,” he said.

Accord­ing to a 2012 report titled, “The Haqqani Net­work: A Strate­gic Threat” by the non­par­ti­san pub­lic pol­i­cy research orga­ni­za­tion Insti­tute for the Study of War, the group threat­ens the endur­ing sta­bil­i­ty of the Afghan state and U.S. nation­al secu­ri­ty inter­ests in the region.

“The Haqqa­nis are cur­rent­ly Afghanistan’s most capa­ble and potent insur­gent group, and they con­tin­ue to main­tain close oper­a­tional and strate­gic ties with al-Qai­da and their affil­i­ates. These ties will like­ly deep­en in the future,” the report’s authors state.

The report says the coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign has not sig­nif­i­cant­ly weak­ened the Haqqa­nis’ mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, as it has those of the Quet­ta Shu­ra Tal­iban in south­ern Afghanistan.

The report’s authors wrote that the Haqqani net­work “has increased its oper­a­tional reach and jihadist cre­den­tials over the past sev­er­al years … [and] has expand­ed its reach toward the Quet­ta Shu­ra Taliban’s his­tor­i­cal strong­holds in south­ern Afghanistan, the areas sur­round­ing Kab­ul, [and] the Afghan north.”

Allen said the 2012 Afghan-ISAF cam­paign plan for Region­al Com­mand East will increase Afghan troop strength in provinces along the bor­der, bol­ster Afghan local police, vil­lage sta­bil­i­ty and spe­cial oper­a­tions forces in the region, and pro­vide a “greater den­si­ty” of U.S. forces part­ner­ing with their Afghan coun­ter­parts.

“The com­bi­na­tion of all of that, we antic­i­pate, will give us a good launch­ing pad for the oper­a­tions in RC East this com­ing sum­mer and in the fall, and then into next year,” the gen­er­al said.

That region, he added, is where “the fight will prob­a­bly be the longest in this insur­gency and will be the most com­pli­cat­ed.”

Allen said anoth­er key goal for 2012 is extend­ing pave­ment of Afghanistan’s “ring road” to link key areas.

“It is an explic­it part of the cam­paign,” he said, to pro­vide a paved route from the Kab­ul secu­ri­ty zone to Kan­da­har so com­merce can open up between the two pop­u­la­tion cen­ters.

Mean­while, as Afghanistan’s infra­struc­ture grows, the gen­er­al said, its army and police forces are gain­ing accep­tance — and there­fore are extend­ing the reach of gov­ern­ment — among their fel­low cit­i­zens.

Allen acknowl­edged that Afghan forces need good lead­ers as they increas­ing­ly take over secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty in their nation. NATO and the Afghan gov­ern­ment have agreed that tran­si­tion will be com­plete by the end of 2014. Afghanistan’s mil­i­tary acad­e­my, non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer cours­es and mil­i­tary branch schools all teach lead­er­ship, he said, and ISAF and Afghan offi­cials are work­ing togeth­er to iden­ti­fy and address incom­pe­tent or cor­rupt Afghan com­man­ders.

“A com­man­der who is able to … bring his staff togeth­er to go through the process of antic­i­pat­ing, plan­ning and exe­cut­ing an oper­a­tion, that is … the com­man­der of the future,” Allen said.

Help­ing Afghan forces build and main­tain the capa­bil­i­ties they will need to defend and pro­tect their nation, he said, means “get­ting after” unfit lead­ers, rein­forc­ing good lead­ers, and ensur­ing “a com­ple­men­tary and aggres­sive insti­tu­tion­al devel­op­ment” of lead­ers from the small-unit to senior com­mand lev­els.

Allen said he will wait for results from the upcom­ing oper­a­tions before he makes any fur­ther rec­om­men­da­tions on U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. Mean­while, he added, Afghanistan and the Unit­ed States are mak­ing progress toward a strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ment, which would out­line the two nations’ long-term coop­er­a­tion.

“It would be good to have it done by [the Chica­go NATO sum­mit in May], where the heads of state of the 50 ISAF nations will gath­er togeth­er,” he said. Many of those nations have con­clud­ed their own bilat­er­al agree­ments with the Afghans, and NATO intends to have a sep­a­rate strate­gic part­ner­ship with Afghanistan, he not­ed.

“It would be, I think, a real­ly impor­tant sig­nal both to the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, to all of ISAF and cer­tain­ly to Afghanistan if that oth­er key strate­gic part­ner­ship is con­clud­ed by then as well,” Allen added.

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