Petraeus: Afghan Transition Will Have Long-term Impact

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2011 — As the tran­si­tion approach­es for Afghan forces to begin tak­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty in their coun­try, actions in the com­ing months will have con­se­quences for years to come, the com­man­der of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said here today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that each step in the process — set to cul­mi­nate with Afghan forces hav­ing the secu­ri­ty lead through­out the coun­try by the end of 2014 — must be close­ly coor­di­nat­ed and irrev­o­ca­ble.

“We’ll get one shot at tran­si­tion, and we need to get it right,” he said.

The coali­tion has increased its efforts to enable the Afghan government’s work to improve gov­er­nance, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment and the pro­vi­sion of basic ser­vices, Petraeus said. “These are essen­tial ele­ments of the effort to shift deliv­ery of basic ser­vices from provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams and inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions to Afghan gov­ern­ment ele­ments,” he explained.

Afghan-led rein­te­gra­tion of rec­on­cil­able insur­gents must be an impor­tant ele­ment of the strat­e­gy, Petraeus said, not­ing that the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force is assist­ing Afghan gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives, includ­ing the recent­ly estab­lished Afghan high peace coun­cil and provin­cial rein­te­gra­tion coun­cils.

“Indeed, we rec­og­nize that we and our Afghan part­ners can­not just kill or cap­ture our way out of the insur­gency in Afghanistan,” the gen­er­al said. “In fact, some 700 for­mer Tal­iban have now offi­cial­ly rein­te­grat­ed with Afghan author­i­ties, and some 2,000 more are in var­i­ous stages of the rein­te­gra­tion process.”

All of these efforts are part of a com­pre­hen­sive civ­il-mil­i­tary approach, he explained, in which ISAF coor­di­nates with inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions, diplo­mat­ic mis­sions in Afghanistan, and the Afghan gov­ern­ment and secu­ri­ty forces.

“We have also sought to ensure that we min­i­mize loss of inno­cent civil­ian life in the course of our oper­a­tions,” he added.

A recent Unit­ed Nations study found that civil­ian casu­al­ties result­ing from ISAF actions decreased by more than 20 per­cent in 2010, though the num­ber of coali­tion forces increased by more than 100,000, Petraeus not­ed. But despite the reduc­tion in civil­ian casu­al­ties, he said, sev­er­al trag­ic inci­dents in recent weeks prompt­ed him to order a review of use of force at all lev­els of ISAF and among attack heli­copter air crews.

“I also reem­pha­sized instruc­tions on reduc­ing dam­age to infra­struc­ture and prop­er­ty to an absolute min­i­mum,” he said. “Coun­terin­sur­gents can­not suc­ceed if they harm the peo­ple they are striv­ing to pro­tect.”

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai will announce next week the first loca­tions where secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty will tran­si­tion to Afghan lead, Petraeus said. In keep­ing with the prin­ci­ples adopt­ed by NATO’s North Atlantic Coun­cil, he added, the pace of tran­si­tion will be deter­mined by con­di­tions on the ground.

“Accord­ing to the NATO prin­ci­ples, tran­si­tion will see our forces thin­ning out, not just hand­ing off,” he said, telling the law­mak­ers that some forces freed up by tran­si­tion will be reas­signed to oth­er loca­tions in Afghanistan or to train­ing Afghan army and police forces.

“Sim­i­lar process­es are also tak­ing place as we com­mence tran­si­tion of cer­tain train­ing and insti­tu­tion­al func­tions from ISAF train­ers to their Afghan coun­ter­parts,” he said.

As the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion unfolds, he said, ISAF must focus not just on the year ahead, but on the goal of full secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty trans­fer by the end of 2014.

“Indeed, we need to ensure that we take a suf­fi­cient­ly long view … [and] that our actions in the months ahead enable long-term achieve­ment in the years ahead,” Petraeus said. ISAF has refined its cam­paign plan to do just that, and has begun to look beyond 2014 to estab­lish­ing U.S. and NATO strate­gic part­ner­ships with Afghanistan, he said.

“All of this is enor­mous­ly reas­sur­ing to our Afghan part­ners, and of con­sid­er­able con­cern to the Tal­iban,” he said. An endur­ing com­mit­ment by the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to Afghanistan, he added, is impor­tant to insur­gents’ recog­ni­tion that rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, rather than con­tin­ued fight­ing, should be their goal.

Petraeus said four fund­ing issues are key to sus­tain­ing progress in Afghanistan.

“I am con­cerned that lev­els of fund­ing for our State Depart­ment and [U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment] part­ners will not suf­fi­cient­ly enable them to build on the hard-fought secu­ri­ty achieve­ments of our men and women in uni­form,” he said, adding that inad­e­quate fund­ing for civil­ian efforts in Afghanistan could jeop­ar­dize the over­all mis­sion.

“I offer that assess­ment not­ing we have just com­plet­ed a joint civ­il-mil­i­tary cam­paign plan between U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy.”

Sec­ond, Petraeus said, he deeply appre­ci­ates fund­ing for addi­tion­al capa­bil­i­ties such as sur­veil­lance assets and all-ter­rain mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed vehi­cles for coali­tion forces. Com­man­ders Emer­gency Response Pro­gram and rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram fund­ing have like­wise been instru­men­tal to the over­all coun­terin­sur­gency effort, he said.

Third, the World Bank and the Asian Devel­op­ment Bank, he said, are the largest donors to Afghanistan after the Unit­ed States, and have been crit­i­cal to con­struc­tion of the Ring Road and the Uzbek-Afghan rail­road.

“We need these crit­i­cal enabling insti­tu­tions, and fur­ther U.S. sup­port for them will ensure that they’re able to con­tin­ue to con­tribute as sig­nif­i­cant­ly as they have in the past,” he said.

Final­ly, fund­ing for devel­op­ment of Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and their result­ing gains in quan­ti­ty, qual­i­ty and capa­bil­i­ty is “essen­tial to the process of tran­si­tion,” Petraeus said. “Our objec­tives in Afghanistan and in the region are of vital impor­tance,” he said. “We will con­tin­ue to make adjust­ments, in close con­sul­ta­tion with our Afghan and inter­na­tion­al coun­ter­parts, as the sit­u­a­tion evolves.”

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

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