Insurgents to Face Cold Reception After Winter, General Says

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2011 — Ene­my fight­ers are begin­ning to make their annu­al spring resur­gence in Afghanistan, but are resur­fac­ing as a weak­ened force with less sup­port from local res­i­dents, a U.S. mil­i­tary com­man­der said today.
Marine Corps Gen. Richard P. Mills spoke with jour­nal­ists at the State Department’s For­eign Press Cen­ter here, along with Derek Hogan, the State’s senior advi­sor to the department’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Afghanistan and Pak­istan. Mills returned to the Unit­ed States three week ago at the end of his com­mand of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Forces’ Region­al Com­mand South­west in Afghanistan’s Hel­mand and Nim­ruz provinces.

The south­west provinces are crit­i­cal to the insur­gency, Mills said. The area is at the cen­ter of the Pash­tun com­mu­ni­ty and pro­vides most of the insurgency’s fund­ing through drugs derived from pop­py plants that are plen­ti­ful in the Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley.

The region­al com­mand there is made up of U.S. Marines and sol­diers from Great Britain, Den­mark, Geor­gia, Esto­nia, and Italy, who mit­i­gat­ed the insur­gency with “a very effec­tive win­ter cam­paign” that brought insur­gent lead­ers out of hid­ing, Mills said.

“When [the ene­my] shows his face again, he’s going to find a very dif­fer­ent bat­tle­field where Afghan army and police are much more con­fi­dent,” the gen­er­al said. “He’s not going to find the same Hel­mand province. He’s going to find a very cold recep­tion” from res­i­dents.

Hel­mand, once a hotbed of the insur­gency, is now safe enough for res­i­dents to move about freely, Mills said. Numer­ous roads have opened, there is improved tele­phone cov­er­age, and about 125,000 chil­dren go to school – includ­ing some 20,000 girls – some­thing the Tal­iban dis­ap­prove of.

“The Tal­iban burn schools, we build them,” Mills said.

The Afghan army has grown to about 10,000 sol­diers in three brigades in the area, and is increas­ing­ly prov­ing its com­pe­ten­cy, Mills said. “The Afghan army likes to fight, is good at it, and is not reluc­tant to take the ene­my on,” he said.

Afghan police is also flour­ish­ing with 7,500 offi­cers patrolling com­mu­ni­ties, most­ly those they were raised in, he said.

As the mil­i­tary has improved secu­ri­ty in south­west Afghanistan, civil­ian work­ers, includ­ing the U.S. State Department’s for­eign ser­vice work­ers, are step­ping up to pre­pare areas to tran­si­tion to Afghan lead­er­ship, which will for­mal­ly begin in July, Hogan said.

“Because of the military’s great gains, we are able to shift our focus to a diplo­mat­ic surge,” he said. “That means the con­flict in Afghanistan will come to an end by a polit­i­cal solu­tion.”

Sev­en Afghan provinces have been iden­ti­fied for tran­si­tion­ing to Afghan forces, but the process can take as long as 18 months, Hogan said. NATO min­is­ters agreed in Novem­ber to a process for tran­si­tion­ing Afghan provinces, and “we must make sure each [step in the] process is met before we move on to the next one,” he said.

The start of the tran­si­tion in July should not be viewed as a NATO exit strat­e­gy, Hogan said. “What we should see over the next months and years is a more clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed plan that ISAF is dili­gent­ly work­ing on,” he said.

State work­ers have cre­at­ed out­reach pro­grams and com­mu­ni­ty coun­cils to act as a bridge between lev­els of gov­ern­ment to han­dle issues such as the rein­te­gra­tion of insur­gent fol­low­ers into com­mu­ni­ties, and deal­ing with cor­rup­tion, Hogan said.

Afghan army and police already have tak­en over secu­ri­ty in many areas of the region­al com­mand, Mills said, “and in oth­er areas we’ve thinned out our forces sig­nif­i­cant­ly.

“The Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are grow­ing more com­pe­tent every day, will­ing to take on more every day, and … are anx­ious to arrive at that capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “It will be a slow thin­ning out process. Hope­ful­ly, one day peo­ple will wake up and say, ‘Gee, did­n’t there used to be U.S. Marines here?’ ”

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

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