Coalition, Afghan Troops Have Retaken Advantage

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 — Coali­tion and Afghan troops have retak­en the advan­tage, once thought lost, from the Tal­iban in Afghanistan, the Defense Department’s top pol­i­cy offi­cial said today.
Michele Flournoy, tes­ti­fy­ing before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, said that fol­low­ing the 9/11 attacks, the Unit­ed States went into Afghanistan to attack al-Qai­da and take down the Tal­iban regime that sup­port­ed the ter­ror­ists.

From 2001 to 2003, oper­a­tions in Afghanistan went well. “In the years that fol­lowed, how­ev­er, we lost focus on Afghanistan,” she said. “While our atten­tion was turned away, al-Qai­da, the Tal­iban, and asso­ci­at­ed extrem­ist groups recon­sti­tut­ed their safe havens along the bor­der­lands between Afghanistan and Pak­istan.”

The ter­ror­ists returned; the Tal­iban took over wide swaths of land; and the ene­my used nar­cotics to finance their efforts and intim­i­date the pop­u­la­tion.

“When Pres­i­dent [Barack] Oba­ma took office, he imme­di­ate­ly under­took a thor­ough review of our strat­e­gy in Afghanistan and Pak­istan and reaf­firmed our core goal: to dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and even­tu­al­ly defeat al-Qai­da, and to pre­vent its return to Afghanistan,” Flournoy said.

That strat­e­gy required more Amer­i­can troops on the ground. Since tak­ing office, the pres­i­dent has ordered about 60,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. The Afghan surge was final­ly all in place in Sep­tem­ber, and it is pay­ing off, Flournoy said.

“With the troop surge, the U.S. and our [Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force] part­ners now have over 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, putting relent­less pres­sure on the insur­gents and secur­ing more and more of the Afghan pop­u­la­tion,” she said. “That surge has been matched by a surge in the num­bers, qual­i­ty and capa­bil­i­ty of the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.”

Afghan forces last year grew by more than 70,000 mem­bers, and the capa­bil­i­ties of their lead­ers increased. Train­ing for rank and file – includ­ing lit­er­a­cy class­es – is pro­ceed­ing apace. Once trained, the Afghan forces part­ner with coali­tion forces, Flournoy said.

“U.S. and ISAF forces, fight­ing side by side with increas­ing­ly capa­ble Afghan units through­out the coun­try, have wrest­ed the ini­tia­tive from the insur­gents, even in the strong­holds of cen­tral Hel­mand and Kan­da­har provinces,” she said. “And we’ve turned up the pres­sure on al-Qai­da and its affil­i­ates in the bor­der regions of Afghanistan and Pak­istan, sig­nif­i­cant­ly degrad­ing, though not yet defeat­ing, their abil­i­ty to plan and con­duct oper­a­tions.”

The mil­i­tary effort is just one part of the surge, which includ­ed a com­pa­ra­ble increase in civil­ians. More than 1,100 civil­ian experts from nine U.S. agen­cies are help­ing to build Afghan gov­er­nance and eco­nom­ic capac­i­ty, the under­sec­re­tary said. That work is “absolute­ly vital to the ulti­mate suc­cess of our over­all mis­sion in Afghanistan,” she said.

But the gains, made at great sac­ri­fice, can still be lost, Flournoy said. “We must con­tin­ue our efforts with Pak­istan to elim­i­nate ter­ror­ist and insur­gent safe havens,” she said.

We seek to build an effec­tive part­ner­ship that advances both U.S. and Pak­istani inter­ests, includ­ing the denial of safe havens to all vio­lent extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions.”

The Unit­ed States must demon­strate to Pak­istan that Amer­i­ca will remain a strong sup­port­er of their secu­ri­ty and pros­per­i­ty now and in the years to come, she said.

The Afghan gov­ern­ment must do more to tack­le preda­to­ry cor­rup­tion that erodes pub­lic trust and fuels the insur­gency, Flournoy said. “We must help cre­ate the con­di­tions nec­es­sary to enable a polit­i­cal set­tle­ment among the Afghan peo­ple,” she said. “This includes rec­on­cil­ing those insur­gents who are will­ing to renounce al-Qai­da, for­sake vio­lence and adhere to the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion.”

In July, the Unit­ed States will begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan and tran­si­tion secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan forces. “This tran­si­tion is a process, not an event,” she said. “The process will unfold vil­lage by vil­lage, dis­trict by dis­trict, province by province.

“The deter­mi­na­tion of when the tran­si­tion will occur and where it will occur is going to be based on bot­tom-up assess­ments of local con­di­tions,” she added. “This process is begin­ning now,” and Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai is expect­ed to announce the first round of dis­tricts and provinces for tran­si­tion on March 21.

Flournoy spoke about the costs of the war in Afghanistan where U.S. casu­al­ties have risen since the surge began. “But the Afghan-Pak­istan bor­der­land has served as a cru­cible for the most cat­a­stroph­ic ter­ror­ist actions of the past decade,” Flournoy said. “The out­come we seek is the defeat of al-Qai­da and the denial of the region as a sanc­tu­ary for ter­ror­ists.

“This objec­tive is the rea­son why our brave men and women in ser­vice have sac­ri­ficed so very much,” she con­tin­ued. “And we are deter­mined to bring this war to a suc­cess­ful con­clu­sion, for the sake of our own secu­ri­ty, but also for the sake of the secu­ri­ty of the peo­ple of Afghanistan, Pak­istan and the region, who have suf­fered so much, who have so much to gain from a secure and last­ing peace.”

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

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