Northern Afghanistan Sees Security, Governance Progress

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 — Mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in four north­ern Afghanistan provinces are yield­ing progress in secu­ri­ty and train­ing pro­grams, and in the kind of devel­op­ment that links peo­ple and their gov­ern­ment, the 1st Brigade Com­bat Team com­man­der said today.
In a live dig­i­tal video con­fer­ence from Camp Mike Spann in Mazar-e Sharif, Army Col. Willard Burleson updat­ed reporters on the work his brigade, a com­po­nent of the 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion, is doing in Region­al Com­mand-North.

“Recent Afghan-led oper­a­tions with [the U.N.-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force] in Kun­duz and Bagh­lan have allowed the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan to expand into areas where insur­gents pre­vi­ous­ly had oper­at­ed freely,” Burleson said.

These oper­a­tions, he added, “have enabled the expan­sion of gov­ern­ment ser­vices to now-safe havens and improved the population’s sen­ti­ment toward its gov­ern­ment.” Burleson’s 3,500-soldier brigade deployed through­out Afghanistan in March and April.

One bat­tal­ion task force is head­quar­tered in Kab­ul, work­ing as part of the NATO train­ing mis­sion, and the cav­al­ry squadron is in Kandahar’s Dand dis­trict, he said. But most of the brigade is in Region­al Com­mand-North, oper­at­ing main­ly in the north­ern provinces of Faryab, Balkh, Kun­duz and Bagh­lan.

Their mis­sion is to part­ner with the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces there, specif­i­cal­ly the Afghan Nation­al Police and the Afghan Nation­al Bor­der Police.

“As we con­duct com­pre­hen­sive oper­a­tions — that’s secu­ri­ty, gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment — with the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces,” Burleson said, “we seek to neu­tral­ize the insur­gency in these key-ter­rain and area-of-inter­est dis­tricts.”

Brigade mem­bers also help the Afghan Bor­der Police in part­nered oper­a­tions at the Hairatan and Sher Khan bor­der-cross­ing points, Burleson said. “We were real­ly the first siz­able Amer­i­can force to oper­ate in this area, to assist in areas where there have been secu­ri­ty issues. And there still are but I think they’re get­ting bet­ter,” Burleson said.

Two months ago, he added, Afghan forces planned, led and exe­cut­ed– an oper­a­tion in Takhar province near the bor­der with Tajik­istan. An insur­gent threat in that remote loca­tion had been large­ly untouched.

“The police zone com­man­der here at the 303rd Police coor­di­nat­ed it with the bor­der zone com­man­der and then with a lit­tle bit of the army,” Burleson said, “and they con­duct­ed the oper­a­tion them­selves” with some help from ISAF enablers and close-air sup­port.

“But they planned and con­duct­ed the oper­a­tion,” Burleson said. “That says a lot about the inter­nal secu­ri­ty forces being able to solve prob­lems them­selves.”

Anoth­er suc­cess­ful effort involves the Afghan Peace and Rein­te­gra­tion Pro­gram spon­sored by the gov­ern­ment of Afghanistan, he said.

The pro­gram extends a hand to com­bat­ant groups, offer­ing them full rights as Afghan cit­i­zens and a dig­ni­fied way to renounce vio­lence and rein­te­grate them­selves into local com­mu­ni­ties.

“To date we’ve seen approx­i­mate­ly 100 for­mer insur­gents rein­te­grate up here, with anoth­er cou­ple-hun­dred at vary­ing steps in the process,” Burleson said.

“These ini­tial rein­te­gra­tion num­bers,” he said, “are an indi­ca­tor of the will­ing­ness of some of our for­mer fight­ers to become decent mem­bers of the soci­ety who sup­port the Afghan gov­ern­ment.”

Much of the rein­te­gra­tion — as with near­ly all progress in Afghanistan, where estab­lish­ing rela­tion­ships is a crit­i­cal cul­tur­al imper­a­tive — is based on good rela­tion­ships, Burleson said.

Speed­ing inte­gra­tion depends on rela­tion­ships among the secu­ri­ty force com­man­ders, the provin­cial chiefs of police and the provin­cial gov­er­nors, he said.

“Police lead­ers call peo­ple they know and say, ‘Look, it’s time to come in, time for the fight­ing to end,’ ” the colonel added. “And that’s real­ly how some of this rein­te­gra­tion starts.”

Dur­ing their time in the region, Burleson said, brigade mem­bers have been able to con­tribute to devel­op­ment efforts that improve the rela­tion­ship between peo­ple and their gov­ern­ment.

“Edu­ca­tion is para­mount in any soci­ety, specif­i­cal­ly edu­ca­tion­al facil­i­ties for young women, who under the Tal­iban cer­tain­ly were denied that oppor­tu­ni­ty,” he said.

“It’s not uncom­mon now to see large groups of young girls going to and from school on the streets of Mazar-e Sharif, Maimana or Kun­duz in this area,” Burleson said, “and I think it’s a sign of progress, at least in north­ern Afghanistan.”

Commander’s Emer­gency Response Pro­gram funds have been employed to replace don­key carts and bus­es with gov­ern­ment-spon­sored vehi­cles to pro­vide Afghan dis­trict and deputy gov­er­nors bet­ter access to their pop­u­la­tions, he said.

“We’ve also had projects in Faryab where, under the lead­er­ship of the gov­er­nor and deputy gov­er­nor, they’ve pro­vid­ed street lights,” Burleson said.

The increased secu­ri­ty in and around com­mu­ni­ties pro­motes com­merce. Street ven­dors stay open lat­er and peo­ple can shop lat­er in well-lit areas.

“It’s a vis­i­ble improve­ment in people’s lives as a result of their gov­ern­ment doing things for them,” he said. “A lot of this is con­nect­ing the gov­ern­ment to the peo­ple through their secu­ri­ty forces and with the help of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force.”

In down­town Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh province, Burleson said, “Gov­er­nor Atta has secu­ri­ty, he’s got devel­op­ment and he’s got a form of effec­tive gov­er­nance. A place like that sets the exam­ple for what dif­fer­ent parts of Afghanistan can become.”

A lot of work remains in all those areas, he added.

“But we’re see­ing progress,” Burleson said. “And I am con­fi­dent that, in time, the Afghans will be able to take [con­trol] and cer­tain­ly this increased [NATO-U.S.] pres­ence will not be required.”

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

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