NATO Leaders See Security Gains in Western Afghanistan

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)

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