WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2010 — Some parts of western Afghanistan could begin transitioning security to Afghan forces within six to nine months, the top NATO force commander in the region said today.
Italian army Brig. Gen. Claudio Berto, commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command-West in Afghanistan, and his deputy chief of staff, Italian air force Col. Vito Cracas, briefed Pentagon reporters in a video news conference from their headquarters in Afghanistan.
The 7,000 NATO troops in the region, which include about 2,000 Americans, are partnered with close to 12,000 Afghan soldiers and police. Craco said districts in Herat province could transition within 6 to 9 months, while districts in other provinces could begin transitioning security responsibilities in 1 to 2 years.
“With our best forces, we are able to keep control [of] the situation,” Berto said. “I would say that it is not so bad. From a diplomatic point of view, …we are heading to really good results.”
The Taliban, Berto said, do not control any portions of western Afghanistan. There are no permanent Taliban bases in the region, but some areas do have heavy Taliban influence, he added.
Berto said these areas are mainly in the south along the border with Helmand province. Western Afghanistan is troubled mostly with criminal elements, he explained. The “real” Taliban and “ideological” threat, he said, is in the south.
Violence has increased, somewhat, in parts of the west, Berto said, but that’s because there are more NATO troops. More troops on the ground, he said, means there is more opportunity to encounter the enemy.
Also, enemy tactics have shifted to mostly roadside bombs, he said, as opposed to small-arms and rocket-propelled grenade attacks that were more common this time last year.
Still, Berto, as well as ISAF leaders in Kabul, Cracas said, are looking at several areas in western Afghanistan to begin transitioning security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
“I would say that here in the West we have all these realities,” Cracas said. “So roughly speaking, I can say there are some districts in Herat province that they would be able to start transitioning in the next six to nine months, maybe, and then, of course, for the rest we’ll need to wait until 12 to 24 months.
“But of course,” he continued, “there are also other areas that we don’t foresee transitioning being possible within [a] two year period.”
Cracas also underscored Berto’s initiative in organizing a working group that brings military, civilian and local leaders together to prioritize and streamline their development efforts.
“There is a lot of very good collaboration between the civilians and the military counterparts,” he said. “The transition is imminent in some parts of our area, because we must start to hand over to the civilians the organizations of the government and all the development aspects.”
Ultimately, security must be established with Afghans leading that effort in order for a transition to fully take place, Cracas said.
“We are here to help them achieve this,” he said. “There is no development without security. Our job is to set conditions so that the Afghan people benefit.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)