NATO — McChrystal Assesses Past Year, Looks Ahead

BRUSSELS, Bel­gium — A year to the day after he met here with NATO offi­cials on his way to take com­mand of U.S. and inter­na­tion­al forces in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal today reviewed the progress achieved there over the last 12 months and pro­vid­ed his per­spec­tive for the year to come.

McChrys­tal met with reporters at NATO head­quar­ters here, where the alliance’s defense min­is­ters, includ­ing Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, are hav­ing two days of meet­ings. Though much remains to be done in Afghanistan, McChrys­tal said, much has tak­en place with a new approach to the mis­sion over the last year.

“I’m not going to try to tell you that every­thing changed day-to-day,” he said, “because it does not [work] that way, but over the course of the year, it’s been pret­ty sig­nif­i­cant.”

The new approach for the Afghanistan mis­sion began with an exhaus­tive assess­ment fol­lowed by refine­ments in strat­e­gy and some dif­fi­cult resource deci­sions, McChrys­tal said. The past year also has seen an over­haul of the command’s con­cept of oper­a­tions, and a retool­ing of how it devel­ops the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces.

“[The Afghan forces] are the strate­gic main effort,” he said, “and they are key to the long-term sta­bil­i­ty of the coun­try.”

Mean­while, the num­bers of Afghan sol­diers and nation­al police con­tin­ue to increase, McChrys­tal said.

“A year ago, there were about 150,000 total Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces,” he said. “Today, there are 230,000. That’s a sig­nif­i­cant growth in a 12-month peri­od. In 18 months – that 12, plus the next six months – we will have equaled the growth of the last sev­en years, so you can see that pace has accel­er­at­ed.”

But num­bers aren’t the whole sto­ry, McChrys­tal said. The qual­i­ty of Afghan forces is mov­ing ahead rapid­ly over the past year through coali­tion forces work­ing side by side with their Afghan part­ners.

“Today, about 85 per­cent of the Afghan Nation­al Army has real part­ner­ships as they go around the bat­tle­field,” he said. Though the Afghan forces are many years away from a lev­el of pro­fes­sion­al­ism that would be expect­ed of long-stand­ing forces such as the U.S. Army, the gen­er­al said, they have made sig­nif­i­cant progress.

Build­ing the Afghan Nation­al Police remains a chal­lenge, McChrys­tal acknowl­edged, not­ing it needs more train­ing and “in many cas­es, doesn’t have as much trust of the pop­u­lace that a police force must have.”

“And we rec­og­nize those chal­lenges, and are work­ing to improve,” the gen­er­al said.

That recog­ni­tion shows through in a greater than 400 per­cent increase in nation­al police offi­cer train­ing over the past year, McChrys­tal not­ed. A year ago, he added, few Afghan police had received any for­mal train­ing.

“If you recall,” McChrys­tal said, “we had a ‘recruit, deploy, train’ mod­el. Today, only about 50 per­cent of them have had for­mal train­ing, but that’s sig­nif­i­cant­ly up from 12 months ago, and we are now in a ‘recruit, train, deploy’ mod­el.

“And we are going back to pick up deployed police as well,” he added. “That will take time, but that has a sig­nif­i­cant impact.”

Oper­a­tional­ly, the focus over the past year has been in south­ern Afghanistan, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Hel­mand province, where the Tal­iban owned most of the Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley a year ago, McChrys­tal said. “In ear­ly July,” he said, “we start­ed putting forces down there to aug­ment the small num­ber that had been there, and [the Tal­iban] don’t own the H

elmand Riv­er val­ley any more.” Yet, chal­lenges remain in Hel­mand province, McChrys­tal acknowl­edged, not­ing that insur­gent-com­mit­ted vio­lence there has con­tin­ued and will con­tin­ue.

“It is by no means a com­plete­ly secure area,” he said. “But a year ago, when they owned it, is stark­ly dif­fer­ent from what exists now.”

When he took charge in Afghanistan, McChrys­tal said, he was unsat­is­fied with the struc­ture and uni­ty of com­mand of the orga­ni­za­tion that was in place.

“Today, we’ve uni­fied that,” he said. “We’ve cre­at­ed some sub­or­di­nate com­mands, … and we’ve tied our efforts clos­er with the civil­ian side, and [it’s] more inte­grat­ed than in the past, and I’m hap­py with that progress.”

Close-air sup­port was a lead­ing cause of civil­ian casu­al­ties in Afghanistan a year ago, McChrys­tal said, and a sus­tained focus on that prob­lem has reduced it.

“And Afghans see that,” he added, “and some of the feed­back I get from Afghans is appre­ci­a­tion for that. We still have more to do to try to bring civil­ian casu­al­ties by all mea­sures as low as we can, but we’ve made real progress in parts of that.”

Anoth­er mark of progress, McChrys­tal said, is that deten­tion oper­a­tions are on track to come under Afghan con­trol. “The deputy com­man­der of our Joint Task Force 435 is an Afghan offi­cer,” he said, “and we’re on track to hand over all deten­tion oper­a­tions at the deten­tion facil­i­ty in Par­wan to Afghans in Jan­u­ary 2011 — and that will con­sti­tute all of our deten­tion oper­a­tions.”

Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces in Afghanistan a year ago were about a third of what they are now, McChrys­tal said, and in the last 90 days, 121 Tal­iban lead­ers have been cap­tured around the coun­try.

“Even in a pop­u­la­tion-cen­tric [coun­terin­sur­gency] cam­paign, you must have all the aspects,” he said. “You must have that part to tar­get key ene­my lead­ers, you must also have that part which pro­tects the pop­u­la­tion, and then, of course, the crit­i­cal gov­ern­ment and devel­op­men­tal parts. But this is a sig­nif­i­cant piece of what we’re doing.”

Region­al­ly, McChrys­tal said, coop­er­a­tion has improved sig­nif­i­cant­ly with Pak­istan. “We’ve estab­lished new bor­der coor­di­na­tion cen­ters,” he said. “We’ve renewed the tri­par­tite con­fer­ence struc­ture that we use, and we’ve increased and improved rela­tion­ships at all lev­els, with their forces, pri­mar­i­ly.”

Sum­ma­riz­ing the past year, McChrys­tal said it has “put us in a posi­tion to make progress.”

As forces have built up in Hel­mand province “where we’ve been the longest, we’ve seen the most progress,” the gen­er­al said. Look­ing ahead, he added, the Afghans will have to be increas­ing­ly involved in the province for that progress to con­tin­ue.

“We see progress every­where,” the gen­er­al said, “but it’s still incom­plete. It’ll take time, and it’ll require us to con­sol­i­date gains. And impor­tant­ly, it will require our Afghan part­ners to be part of that at each step of the way – both the police [and] the army, and then, of course, the gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment aspects as they rebuild Afghan con­trol of an area that they essen­tial­ly have not con­trolled for a num­ber of years.”

Oper­a­tions under way around Kan­da­har today couldn’t be done a year ago, McChrys­tal said.

“We’ve begun exten­sive plan­ning and shap­ing oper­a­tions, and that’s ongo­ing,” he said. “Our force uplift is expand­ing our abil­i­ty to secure and clear, and secu­ri­ty forces con­tin­ue to arrive. A year ago, there were about 7,300 total forces in Kan­da­har City and the envi­rons, and those are the key dis­tricts con­tigu­ous to the city. By the end of August, we’ll have about 20,300 forces in that same area.”

McChrys­tal said he’ll accom­pa­ny Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai as he con­ducts anoth­er in a series of “shuras,” or meet­ings of com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers, in Kan­da­har in the next few days. Karzai will “be focus­ing on all things to improve in Kan­da­har: secu­ri­ty, gov­er­nance, reduc­ing cor­rup­tion, [and] increas­ing capac­i­ty of Afghan gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment there,” the gen­er­al said. “We also will be look­ing at con­tract­ing reform, pri­vate secu­ri­ty com­pa­nies and what we can do with land dis­putes [that] under­lie many of the prob­lems.”

The past year has seen progress in devel­op­ing con­cepts and a pro­gram for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and rein­te­gra­tion of Afghans who had pre­vi­ous­ly sided with the Tal­iban or oth­er dis­rup­tive ele­ments, McChrys­tal said.

“The recent con­sul­ta­tive peace jir­ga rep­re­sent­ed an event in that process to bring nation­al con­sen­sus to it,” he said, “and I think it was an impor­tant step to explain and bring the Afghan peo­ple toward more inclu­sive gov­er­nance and bring­ing dia­logue on rein­te­gra­tion back. And I think they gath­ered the thoughts of the peo­ple and got the man­date that they want­ed to move for­ward in those pro­grams.”

In the year ahead, McChrys­tal said, he envi­sions that the tran­si­tion to Afghan con­trol of cer­tain areas can begin.

“We view it as a process, and not an event, which enables Afghan own­er­ship and rein­forces Afghan sov­er­eign­ty, and it puts Afghans in the lead and respon­si­ble for their future,” he said. “I don’t think it imme­di­ate­ly reduces the require­ment for inter­na­tion­al-com­mu­ni­ty sup­port of dif­fer­ing kinds, based upon the con­di­tions in each area.

“In some areas, it will be secu­ri­ty assis­tance,” the gen­er­al con­tin­ued. “In some areas, it will be less mil­i­tary, and it will be more based on help with gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment.”

McChrys­tal said assess­ing progress involves a detailed process that focus­es on three major areas: the capac­i­ty of Afghanistan’s nation­al gov­ern­ment, growth and devel­op­ment of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, and the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion, which means pro­tect­ing the pop­u­la­tion while degrad­ing the insur­gency.

“All three show signs of progress,” the gen­er­al said. “It is slow, but pos­i­tive. It varies from region to region. And in areas where we have oper­at­ed, it typ­i­cal­ly reflects how long effec­tive coun­terin­sur­gency efforts have been applied.”

Some­times, that progress is mod­est, he acknowl­edged. “But I think it’s impor­tant that the per­cep­tion of the insur­gency hav­ing momen­tum is revers­ing,” he added.

Vio­lence is up, McChrys­tal said, and it will con­tin­ue to rise, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the sum­mer as forces in Afghanistan roll back Tal­iban influ­ence and move toward increased secu­ri­ty. “Afghan con­fi­dence is improv­ing, and they are a coura­geous and resilient peo­ple,” he said. “But they have been at war for 31 years, or they have been impact­ed by vio­lence for 31 years, and that’s sig­nif­i­cant. They want a bet­ter future, and we think that we’re set­ting con­di­tions for them to shape their future.”

But suc­cess won’t come quick­ly, the gen­er­al said.

“Progress won’t show every day,” he said, “but it will show over time, week-by-week and month-by-month. And it will be evi­dent.”

Oper­a­tions con­duct­ed ear­li­er this year in and around the for­mer Tal­iban strong­hold of Mar­ja pro­vid­ed some lessons that are being applied in and around Kan­da­har, McChrys­tal said, not­ing any deci­sive point in Kan­da­har may come lat­er than orig­i­nal­ly envi­sioned.

“We re-adjust our plans about every day, as most mil­i­tary com­man­ders do, because you react to devel­op­ments on the ground,” he said. “We haven’t changed the focus of what we intend to pro­duce around Kan­da­har, nor have we changed the basic force struc­ture. We con­tin­ue to mod­i­fy it. I do think that it will hap­pen more slow­ly than we had orig­i­nal­ly antic­i­pat­ed. “As we con­duct coun­terin­sur­gency oper­a­tions around the coun­try and the Hel­mand Riv­er val­ley,” he con­tin­ued, “we are remind­ed that it’s a delib­er­ate process. It takes time to con­vince peo­ple. … We are already in the process of doing polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary shap­ing, but it’s my per­son­al assess­ment that it will be more delib­er­ate than we thought ear­li­er and com­mu­ni­cat­ed.”

There­fore, the gen­er­al added, oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har will take months to play out.

“But I don’t think that’s nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing,” he added. “I think it’s more impor­tant we get it right than we get it fast.”

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