RC-East Troops Making Progress Against Insurgents

FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, April 19, 2011 — Army Maj. Gen. John F. Camp­bell makes no bones of the fact that his job as the com­man­der Region­al Com­mand East is the most chal­leng­ing prob­lem he ever has con­front­ed.
“This is the most com­plex thing I’ve ever dealt with,” Camp­bell said here today. “Every day you can be frus­trat­ed. But as a leader you’re not very effec­tive if you stay frus­trat­ed. It is, many days, two steps for­ward [and] one step back, but it is progress.”

Camp­bell, who also com­mands the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion, spoke to reporters trav­el­ing with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “RC-East is prob­a­bly the most com­plex prob­lem set I’ve seen,” he said. “I spent 19 months in Bagh­dad dur­ing the surge, and this is expo­nen­tial­ly hard­er because of the trib­al dynam­ics, the polit­i­cal dynam­ics, the ter­rain, the weath­er, the dis­tance –- it’s just a huge prob­lem set.” Camp­bell spoke about the com­plex­i­ties of his com­mand that encom­pass­es 14 provinces, 8 mil­lion peo­ple and 450 miles of bor­der with Pak­istan.

“You can’t talk about Afghanistan with­out talk­ing about Pak­istan,” he said. “I don’t think we should make any bones about the sanc­tu­ar­ies in Pak­istan. There are guys who have sanc­tu­ary in Pak­istan, and they are com­ing across the bor­der and killing Amer­i­cans –- that is the Haqqani net­work.”

The Haqqani net­work is a tough foe that oper­ates in Afghanistan’s Pak­tia, Pak­ti­ka and Nurestan provinces. The Haqqani fam­i­ly runs it, and it is much like a Mafia fam­i­ly, Camp­bell said. Plus, the net­work oper­ates open­ly in Pak­istan and has some lev­el of sup­port from Pakistan’s Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence. “I don’t know at what lev­el they are tied in to the ISI,” the gen­er­al said.

The net­work has tak­en a pound­ing from coali­tion and Afghan forces in the past year, Camp­bell said.

“I think over the 11 months inside Afghanistan, … the num­ber of killed, detained and cap­tured Haqqani has just dou­bled,” the gen­er­al said. Still, the net­work has been suc­cess­ful, and Camp­bell car­ries cards with pho­tos and names of the 207 coali­tion ser­vice­mem­bers that have been killed in his region -– many of them by Haqqani mem­bers.

Pak­istan is tak­ing the insur­gents’ sanc­tu­ar­ies seri­ous­ly. Eigh­teen months ago, 30,000 Pak­istani troops were post­ed along the bor­der. Today, there are 140,000, and they have suf­fered a lot of loss­es as well.

“You can’t kill your way out of this thing,” Camp­bell said. “We have to build sys­tems here the Afghans can sus­tain. There’s got to be some­thing at some point in time -– a polit­i­cal solu­tion with Pak­istan –- to work this thing out.”

Camp­bell said his rela­tion­ship with his Pak­istani coun­ter­part, the com­man­der of the 11th Corps, has become much bet­ter over the 11 months Camp­bell has been in com­mand.

“We do com­ple­men­tary oper­a­tions on both sides of the bor­der,” he said. “Now we do these bor­der flag meet­ings -– at bat­tal­ion lev­el, brigade lev­el. Sev­en or eight months ago, we would sched­ule these and they would get can­celled. They did­n’t show up, or they need­ed per­mis­sion from Islam­abad to attend.”

Camp­bell appealed direct­ly for reg­u­lar, sched­uled meet­ings between U.S. and Pak­istani mil­i­tary lead­ers, and those meet­ings even­tu­al­ly became a rou­tine occur­rence.

“Once the com­man­ders get togeth­er at the tac­ti­cal lev­el, they talk,” Camp­bell said.

One fruit of this com­mu­ni­ca­tion was Strong Eagle 1 last year. It was a coop­er­a­tive oper­a­tion in which the Pak­istani mil­i­tary set up block­ing posi­tions and U.S. and Afghan forces killed about 150 extrem­ists. Strong Eagle 2 a few weeks ago saw almost the same results.

“I think they are real­ly start­ing to fig­ure out that this is a com­mon ene­my, and we have to work this out,” Camp­bell said.

All lev­els of com­mand are involved. Mullen will meet with Pak­istani lead­ers in Islam­abad lat­er this week to dis­cuss areas of mutu­al con­cern. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the coali­tion and U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, works with his Pak­istani coun­ter­parts, and Region­al Com­mand East inch­es the process for­ward as well.

“We now have three tac­ti­cal bor­der coor­di­na­tion cen­ters with the Pak­ista­nis,” Camp­bell said. “Up until Octo­ber 2010, there were no Pak­istani offi­cers in them. After the unfor­tu­nate Sept. 30 bor­der inci­dent where we killed some Pak­istani sol­diers, they final­ly moved some peo­ple in there, and it’s increased our coop­er­a­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

The Pak­ista­nis are in the midst of a bor­der oper­a­tion now, and Amer­i­can forces are set­ting block­ing forces for them, the gen­er­al not­ed.

Build­ing the capac­i­ty of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces is key for suc­cess here as well. Camp­bell praised NATO for agree­ing to stay the course through the end of 2014, and added that the com­mit­ment has made a dif­fer­ence to the Afghans he deals with.

“Before that, the Afghans said we were leav­ing in 2011. Now they know it is 2014,” Camp­bell said. “It’s not just the mil­i­tary side. We’re get­ting more tips from the peo­ple, more recruits. That has changed the dynam­ic of the bat­tle­field.”

And the bat­tle­field has changed.

“In con­junc­tion with our spe­cial ops broth­ers, we have done huge dam­age to these [extrem­ist] groups,” he said. “But you’ve got to build the gov­er­nance, you have to build the devel­op­ment piece, you have to build the sys­tems.”

The secu­ri­ty effort has been suc­cess­ful, and the Tal­iban and their allies have been pun­ished. “Wher­ev­er they have massed, they die,” Camp­bell said. “They massed here at Saler­no, they died. They massed at Jalal­abad, they died. There has been a 276-per­cent increase in the num­ber of caches dis­cov­ered –- the equiv­a­lent of 400 sui­cide vests, the equiv­a­lent of 30 car bombs, and so on.

“Before the surge, the ene­my had momen­tum, but because of the surge the ene­my lost the momen­tum, and through the fall and win­ter we took the momen­tum,” he con­tin­ued. “It’s cer­tain­ly reversible. We’ve set them back on their heels, and we feel very good about where we are this spring. It’s going to be hard­er [for the insur­gents] to come back in and take the bat­tle space, but mark my words, they will try to do that.”

Those the coali­tion and Afghans have cap­tured tell a bleak sto­ry, Camp­bell said. The extrem­ists’ morale is low, he said, their pay is bad, and they are not get­ting the right kinds of sup­plies.

“We know we are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence, and we have to stay on that,” Camp­bell said. “We can’t let that regen­er­ate.”

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

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