Coalition Has Momentum in Afghanistan, Petraeus Says

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 — The Taliban’s momen­tum has been reversed in most areas of Afghanistan, but the progress achieved there is frag­ile and reversible, the com­man­der of NATO and U.S. forces said here today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that much dan­ger­ous work remains ahead for coali­tion and Afghan gov­ern­ment forces in the coun­try.

“Nonethe­less, the hard-fought achieve­ments in 2010 and ear­ly 2011 have enabled the joint Afghan-NATO tran­si­tion board to rec­om­mend ini­ti­a­tion this spring of tran­si­tion to Afghan lead in sev­er­al provinces,” he said. The progress also will fac­tor into his rec­om­men­da­tions in draw­ing down the num­ber of U.S. forces in the coun­try, now at around 100,000, the gen­er­al added.

The progress, Petraeus said, has put the NATO-led effort on the path to turn over secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty for the coun­try to Afghan forces by 2014.

The effort in Afghanistan is more than sim­ply a mil­i­tary cam­paign, Petraeus told the sen­a­tors. Sup­port and resources the Unit­ed States and the 47 oth­er troop-con­tribut­ing coun­tries have pro­vid­ed has allowed the civ­il-mil­i­tary cam­paign to work, he said.

And, Petraeus not­ed, the Afghans them­selves are shoul­der­ing an increas­ing­ly larg­er share of the defense bur­den.

“More than 87,000 addi­tion­al NATO ISAF troop­ers and 1,000 addi­tion­al civil­ians have been added to the effort in Afghanistan since the begin­ning of 2009,” the gen­er­al said. “In Afghanistan, secu­ri­ty forces have grown by over 122,000 in that time as well.”

Get­ting the inputs right has enabled all forces to con­duct the com­pre­hen­sive cam­paign, he said.

“Our core objec­tive is, of course, ensur­ing that Afghanistan does not once again become a sanc­tu­ary for al-Qai­da,” Petraeus told the pan­el. “Achiev­ing that objec­tive requires that we help Afghanistan devel­op suf­fi­cient capa­bil­i­ties to secure and gov­ern itself, and that effort requires the exe­cu­tion of the com­pre­hen­sive civ­il-mil­i­tary effort on which we are now embarked.”

The effort has enabled a stepped-up tem­po of pre­cise, intel­li­gence-dri­ven oper­a­tions to cap­ture or kill insur­gent lead­ers, the gen­er­al said.

“In a typ­i­cal 90-day peri­od, in fact, pre­ci­sion oper­a­tions by U.S. spe­cial mis­sion units and their Afghan part­ners alone kill or cap­ture some 360 tar­get­ed insur­gent lead­ers,” Petraeus said. “More­over, intel­li­gence-dri­ven oper­a­tions are now coor­di­nat­ed with senior offi­cers of the rel­e­vant Afghan min­istries, and vir­tu­al­ly all include high­ly trained Afghan sol­diers or police, with some Afghan ele­ments now in the lead on these oper­a­tions.”

Com­bined ISAF-Afghan oper­a­tions have cleared the Tal­iban from impor­tant safe havens, and the forces are hold­ing these areas, allow­ing gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment to take root, Petraeus not­ed.

ISAF and Afghan troop­ers have, for exam­ple, cleared such crit­i­cal areas as the dis­tricts west of Kan­da­har city that were the birth­place of the Tal­iban move­ment, as well as impor­tant dis­tricts of Hel­mand province,” he said.

These oper­a­tions have result­ed in the grad­ual devel­op­ment of local gov­er­nance and eco­nom­ic revival in the grow­ing secu­ri­ty bub­bles, the gen­er­al said, point­ing out that in Mar­ja in Hel­mand province -– once a Tal­iban strong­hold –- 75 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers cast bal­lots in recent city elec­tions.

“As a result of improve­ments in the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion there,” Petraeus said, “the mar­kets — which once sold weapons, explo­sives and ille­gal nar­cotics — now fea­ture over 1,500 shops sell­ing food, clothes and house­hold goods.”

Safe havens in Pak­istan also are receiv­ing atten­tion, as ISAF has troops in place to inter­dict these cor­ri­dors, the gen­er­al told the sen­a­tors, and ISAF and Afghan troops are coop­er­at­ing with Pak­istani forces across the bor­der to trap Tal­iban forces between this ham­mer and anvil.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai will announce which provinces will tran­si­tion to full Afghan con­trol next week, Petraeus said. “In keep­ing with the prin­ci­ples adopt­ed by [NATO’s] North Atlantic Coun­cil to guide tran­si­tion,” he said, “the shift­ing of respon­si­bil­i­ty from ISAF to Afghan forces will be con­duct­ed at a pace deter­mined by con­di­tions on the ground with assess­ments pro­vid­ed from the bot­tom up so that those at oper­a­tional-com­mand lev­el in Afghanistan can plan the result­ing bat­tle­field geom­e­try adjust­ments with our Afghan part­ners.”

The tran­si­tion, he con­tin­ued, will allow NATO to take some troops out of the coun­try, and will enable a bulk-up of troops in oth­er areas.

“Sim­i­lar process­es are also tak­ing place as we com­mence tran­si­tion of cer­tain train­ing and insti­tu­tion­al func­tions from ISAF train­ers to their Afghan coun­ter­parts,” Petraeus said. It’s impor­tant to ensure the tran­si­tion process is irre­versible, the gen­er­al said.

“As the ambas­sadors of sev­er­al ISAF coun­tries empha­sized at one recent NATO meet­ing,” he said, “we’ll get one shot at tran­si­tion, and we need to get it right.”

Since the surge of forces into Afghanistan reached its peak eight months ago, the progress is unde­ni­able, Petraeus told the pan­el. The Tal­iban have lost safe havens, many insur­gent lead­ers have been killed or cap­tured, and hun­dreds of rec­on­cil­able mid-lev­el lead­ers and fight­ers have been rein­te­grat­ed into Afghan soci­ety, he said.

Mean­while, Petraeus added, Afghan forces have grown in num­bers and capa­bil­i­ties, and secu­ri­ty improve­ments have meant real progress in gov­er­nance and the econ­o­my.

“None of this has been easy,” the gen­er­al said. “The progress achieved has entailed hard fight­ing and con­sid­er­able sac­ri­fice. There have been tough loss­es along the way, and there have been set­backs as well as suc­cess­es. Indeed, the expe­ri­ence has been akin to that of a roller coast­er ride. The tra­jec­to­ry has gen­er­al­ly been upward since last sum­mer, but there cer­tain­ly have been sig­nif­i­cant bumps and dif­fi­cult revers­es at var­i­ous points.”

The Tal­iban will try to regain momen­tum this spring, Petraeus said.

“We believe that we will be able to build on the momen­tum achieved in 2010, though that clear­ly will entail addi­tion­al tough fight­ing,” he added.

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

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