Reintegration Builds Confidence in Afghanistan, General Says

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2011 — The pro­gram coali­tion forces helped to cre­ate in Afghanistan last year to turn young men away from the insur­gency and rein­te­grate them back to their com­mu­ni­ties is going a long way in build­ing trust and con­fi­dence there, a mil­i­tary offi­cial said today.

Afghan and coali­tion lead­ers faced “huge chal­lenges” when the rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram began last fall, Maj. Gen. Phil Jones of the British army told reporters dur­ing a NATO news con­fer­ence. Jones is the direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s Force Rein­te­gra­tion Cell in Kab­ul.

“They have over­come incred­i­ble skep­ti­cism and doubt that a social peace pro­gram could emerge in the mid­dle of this con­flict,” Jones said in a video link to NATO head­quar­ters in Brus­sels from the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul.

Afghan lead­ers’ vision of the pro­gram is “to build trust and con­fi­dence among peo­ple who have been fight­ing each oth­er and their gov­ern­ment for many years,” Jones said, not­ing that Afghans have endured war and con­flict for more than 30 years.

Through the out­reach of Afghanistan’s social, polit­i­cal and reli­gious lead­ers, Jones said, “peace is built vil­lage by vil­lage, if nec­es­sary.”

As secu­ri­ty improves and areas sta­bi­lize, “fight­ers are brought home to rein­te­grate into the com­mu­ni­ty,” he said. “This means that fight­ers return to peace as con­se­quence of peace build­ing, not as result of mate­r­i­al or finan­cial [need].”

The gen­er­al urged coali­tion forces to be patient with the Afghan pace of change. “It’s incred­i­bly impor­tant to under­stand and respect the neces­si­ty of the coura­geous, patient, con­fi­dence-build­ing con­flict-res­o­lu­tion work” being done across the coun­try, he said.

“Com­ing to peace after a life­time of fight­ing is a tough process, and we have to rec­og­nize that,” the gen­er­al said. “The Afghans see peace build­ing as a very, very long-term pro­gram. It’s about start­ing a wider social move­ment of peace that increas­ing­ly binds the Afghan peo­ple.”

Rein­te­gra­tion is based on griev­ance res­o­lu­tion and Afghan notions of for­give­ness, Jones said.

Under the pro­gram, fight­ers “can step out of the fight — this is not sur­ren­der,” Jones said. “They can rejoin soci­ety with their hon­or and dig­ni­ty intact and, where pos­si­ble, we will work with their com­mu­ni­ty on secu­ri­ty,” he added.

A year ago, a thou­sand for­mer fight­ers were enrolled in the rein­te­gra­tion pro­gram, which was planned for eight provinces, Jones said. Today, rein­te­gra­tion is hap­pen­ing in 34 provinces and offi­cial­ly includes 2,436 men “who are no longer shoot­ing at ISAF sol­diers, and no longer lay­ing [road­side bombs] that kill inno­cent women and chil­dren,” he said.

Jones said he believes many more for­mer fight­ers are “sim­ply going home and silent­ly rein­te­grat­ing into their com­mu­ni­ties.”

It is impos­si­ble to know the num­ber of insur­gent fight­ers, which changes sea­son to sea­son, the gen­er­al said, but ISAF offi­cials believe it’s in the realm of 25,000.

“Build­ing peace out of war is a tough human process,” he said. “After 30 years of con­flict, peo­ple will be cau­tious and wary, [and] skep­ti­cism and doubt remains wide­spread. It requires huge ener­gy to over­come the nature of war, and great per­sis­tence to build con­fi­dence and trust and momen­tum.”

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