NATO, Afghan Forces Hold Advantage, Petraeus Says

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)

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