General Reports Fragile Progress in Eastern Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, June 14, 2011 — Less than a month after return­ing from a one-year deploy­ment to Afghanistan as com­man­der of Joint Task Force 101 and Region­al Com­mand East, Army Maj. Gen. John F. Camp­bell report­ed con­tin­u­ing progress on mul­ti­ple fronts, but said more time is need­ed to ensure it will stick.
Camp­bell, com­man­der of the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion at Fort Camp­bell, Ky., told Pritzk­er Mil­i­tary Library Pres­i­dent and CEO Ed Tracey at the Chica­go library today he’s proud of the secu­ri­ty suc­cess­es his sol­diers helped pro­mote by pur­su­ing insur­gents and help­ing to build the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

“The Afghan army, the Afghan police, the Afghan bor­der police con­tin­ue to grow in their capac­i­ty and their capa­bil­i­ty,” he said.

Much of the task force’s work took place at the dis­trict lev­el, where the sol­diers focused on build­ing addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ty with­in the police force and pro­mot­ing lead­er­ship and pro­fes­sion­al­ism among Afghan sol­diers.

Camp­bell cit­ed oth­er for­ward momen­tum dur­ing the past year in pro­mot­ing gov­er­nance, devel­op­ment and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ty with­in Region­al Com­mand East. He cit­ed unprece­dent­ed coor­di­na­tion with more than 150 civil­ian pro­fes­sion­als there from the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, and the State and Agri­cul­ture depart­ments.

Task Force 101 “made progress every sin­gle day,” Camp­bell said, while acknowl­edg­ing, “some days we took two steps for­ward and one step back.”

Camp­bell empha­sized the impor­tance of the coalition’s rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan, not­ing that he vis­it­ed Pak­istan five times dur­ing the deploy­ment and brought Pak­istan rep­re­sen­ta­tives to his head­quar­ters sev­er­al times.

“You can’t talk about Afghanistan with­out includ­ing Pak­istan in the equa­tion,” he said.

Strain between the Unit­ed States and Pak­istan over issues such as drones and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden haven’t ham­pered coop­er­a­tion on the ground, he report­ed. “At the tac­ti­cal and oper­a­tional lev­el, the rela­tion­ships that we had con­tin­ued to get bet­ter and bet­ter,” he said.

With the final surge forces arriv­ing in Afghanistan in August, Camp­bell said more time is need­ed to build on the coun­terin­sur­gency efforts under way and to ensure the progress being made will stick.

The gen­er­al acknowl­edged the chal­lenges his task force faced car­ry­ing out the mis­sion in a region that stretch­es 43,000 square miles and includes 450 miles of bor­der with Pak­istan. “We had to pri­or­i­tize,” he said. “We could­n’t be every­where all the time.”

In addi­tion to exten­sive dis­tances, troops in Afghanistan face addi­tion­al chal­lenges: insur­gent move­ments and attacks across the bor­der from Pak­istan, demand­ing ter­rain and weath­er con­di­tions, and cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences, among them.

Anoth­er chal­lenge -– one Camp­bell said remains trou­bling — is the threat of ene­my troops being able to infil­trate Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and launch attacks on coali­tion and Afghan forces.

This mix of chal­leng­ing con­di­tions cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment “expo­nen­tial­ly hard­er than what I faced in Bagh­dad,” he said, refer­ring to his deploy­ment to Iraq as com­mand­ing gen­er­al for maneu­ver for the 1st Cav­al­ry Divi­sion and 4th Infantry Divi­sion.

Camp­bell expressed pride in his sol­diers’ dogged deter­mi­na­tion to suc­ceed in Afghanistan and in their abil­i­ty to forge and deep­en rela­tion­ships with the Afghan peo­ple.

Going into the deploy­ment, Camp­bell said he knew that more coali­tion and Afghan troops on the ground would mean more ene­my attacks against them. Yet while the num­ber of attacks did increase, he report­ed that their effec­tive­ness went down.

But “it was a very, very tough time,” he said, with the 101st los­ing 133 sol­diers, the most for the unit in any sin­gle deploy­ment since the Viet­nam War.

“Every sin­gle sol­dier is a trag­ic loss,” he said, pulling out a large stack of cards, each one with the name, pho­to and unit affil­i­a­tion of a sol­dier killed, along with fam­i­ly back­ground and cir­cum­stances of the death.

“I car­ried these cards every­where I went, in the back of my ruck­sack,” he said. “I did it as a way so I would nev­er ever for­get the great sac­ri­fice on the part of these sol­diers and their fam­i­lies,” and to be able to show them to oth­ers so they, too, would remem­ber.

Six addi­tion­al 101st sol­diers were killed since the gen­er­al returned to Fort Camp­bell in late May.

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

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