WASHINGTON, March 23, 2011 — NATO and Afghan forces hold the advantage over insurgents as spring and summer approach, the commander of coalition and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said in London today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, en route back to Afghanistan after congressional testimony here, told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that Taliban fighters displaced over the last year from long-held areas in Afghanistan have lost significant capability.
“The infrastructure, the contacts, the relationships, the command-and-control facilities, … [the Taliban lack] all of this that they have established, in some cases, over a period of decades,” the general said. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has recovered four times as many weapons and explosives caches over the past several months than in the same period a year ago, he added, “because we’re in areas where they had to leave behind a great deal.”
Afghan and ISAF forces also have between 100,000 and 120,000 more pairs of boots on the ground than they did a year ago, the general said, while insurgents “will not come at us, we think, in such large attacks as they have in the past” when the harsh Afghan winters have ended.
Petraeus said that as the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility gets under way according to the plan Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced yesterday, ISAF is working to support his efforts to extend governance.
Coalition strategy in Afghanistan is increasingly focused on counterinsurgency’s “build” phase, though needed gains remain in the “clear” and “hold” phases, Petraeus said.
ISAF is working to solidify and expand security gains in central Afghanistan while increasing its defense in depth along the border with Pakistan, the general said.
“We have the best coordination, I think, [that] we’ve ever had between ISAF, the Pakistani army and Afghan forces,” he said.
Pakistani efforts against al-Qaida in northern Waziristan has put “enormous pressure on them … [and] commenced the dismantlement, if you will, of that organization and to force its most senior leaders to go even further underground than they already were,” he added.
The pressure on al-Qaida is evident in the terror organization’s delayed response to world events, Petraeus said. “You only have to look at how, typically, untimely statements by Osama bin Laden are when there are fast-paced events ongoing in the Middle East,” he explained. ISAF, Pakistani and Afghan forces must keep pressure on against al-Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist networks, Petraeus said.
“In terms of what can lead to a change, I think that developments inside Afghanistan may be the most important lever,” he said. Widespread reintegration of former insurgents into Afghan society would lead to a situation where Taliban leaders “would call up on their cellphone, and no one answers,” he said.
Reintegration has achieved some “modest reductions” already, Petraeus said, and ISAF strategy acknowledges “you can’t kill or capture your way out of an insurgency.”
“With respect to reconciliation and reintegration, there is no question about the seriousness of the Afghan government or President Karzai about this,” he said, noting peace councils devoted to reintegrating former Taliban members have been established in most of Afghanistan’s provinces.
Petraeus said Afghan leaders and international opinion support “constructive discussions that could lead to reconciliation of substantial parts of the organizations that are causing such problems for Afghanistan and the Afghan people.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)