Rodriguez: Afghans Rise Above Taliban’s Desperation

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2011 — Sen­sa­tion­al, high-vis­i­bil­i­ty attacks on Afghan gov­ern­ment offi­cials and secu­ri­ty forces rep­re­sent a des­per­ate ene­my strat­e­gy to intim­i­date the Afghan peo­ple and shake the trust and con­fi­dence they are devel­op­ing for their lead­ers and insti­tu­tions, a top com­man­der in Afghanistan said today.

Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, com­man­der of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Joint Com­mand and deputy com­man­der of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told a Cen­ter for a New Amer­i­can Secu­ri­ty forum he expects this spate of attacks to con­tin­ue.

“The Tal­iban can­not expect to regain ter­ri­to­ry,” he said via video­con­fer­ence from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., where he is help­ing to train the Army’s 1st Corps lead­er­ship and Euro­pean Reac­tion Corps for their upcom­ing deploy­ment to Afghanistan.

“So right now they are attempt­ing to degrade the trust the coali­tion and Afghans have in each oth­er through insid­er attacks, as well as to intim­i­date the peo­ple in hopes of mak­ing them believe that their gov­ern­ment can­not pro­tect them,” he said.

“But so far, the part­ner­ship remains strong,” Rodriguez con­tin­ued. “And in many places, the peo­ple aren’t buy­ing the fact that the gov­ern­ment can­not pro­tect them.” One of the best indi­ca­tions, he said, is how quick­ly peo­ple return to nor­mal dai­ly activ­i­ties after each attack.

Rodriguez report­ed that the death of Osama bin Laden has had no impact on the ground in Afghanistan and empha­sized that the mis­sion remains the same: to deny al-Qai­da sanc­tu­ary and pre­vent the Tal­iban from retak­ing Afghanistan.

“Our progress in achiev­ing our objec­tives and mak­ing Afghanistan a place inhos­pitable to ter­ror­ists is indis­putable,” he said. “But it remains frag­ile and reversible.”

Rodriguez expressed con­fi­dence in the strat­e­gy designed to build on this progress that focus­es on “crit­i­cal ter­rain” with­in Afghanistan. This involves com­mit­ting most man­pow­er and oth­er resources to key pop­u­la­tion, eco­nom­ic and trans­porta­tion cen­ters he called par­tic­u­lar­ly crit­i­cal to Afghanistan’s long-term sta­bil­i­ty.

“We are large­ly able to focus the major­i­ty of our coali­tion and inter­na­tion­al efforts where we need them and when we need them,” he said. “And when we do this, our resources are suf­fi­cient. And I can’t overem­pha­size what a big idea that has been to our effort.”

Rodriguez laud­ed suc­cess­es in devel­op­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces — now num­ber­ing more than 284,000 — ahead of sched­ule. “There is no doubt they can and will fight,” he said. “And their oper­a­tional effec­tive­ness in destroy­ing the ene­my and pro­tect­ing their peo­ple grows dai­ly.”

The gen­er­al said he believes the goal of get­ting Afghan secu­ri­ty forces into the lead through­out Afghanistan by the end of 2014 is achiev­able. At the pla­toon and com­pa­ny lev­el, they’re “enor­mous­ly capa­ble of con­duct­ing oper­a­tions with lit­tle assis­tance,” he said. So the coali­tion focus is on build­ing head­quar­ters capac­i­ty, he explained, and even­tu­al­ly leav­ing in place “only the crit­i­cal enablers” such as med­ical evac­u­a­tion and access to joint effects and intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance assets.

In the mean­time, Rodriguez said, he reg­u­lar­ly empha­sizes to his field com­man­ders the need to con­tin­u­al­ly chal­lenge their Afghan coun­ter­parts.

“We have got to push our Afghan part­ners to start lead­ing more and more,” he said. “We have to start tak­ing more risks in this regard and hav­ing more trust in them.”

Rodriguez expressed sim­i­lar con­fi­dence in Afghan lead­ers, who he said are increas­ing­ly step­ping up to lead their peo­ple, and the expan­sion of the government’s pres­ence across Afghanistan in a way that holds key ter­rain once it has been cleared. He under­scored the impor­tance of dis­trict gov­ern­ments, which he called the “first line of assis­tance for the vil­lagers” against what is essen­tial­ly a rur­al insur­gency.

Unlike in the past — where devel­op­ment was less tar­get­ed and often did­n’t result in secu­ri­ty gains, and the same ground had to be cleared over and over again — the “key ter­rain” con­struct helps to ensure gains made stick, he said.

“Now we are much bet­ter off,” he said. “We spend the bulk of our mil­i­tary effort on degrad­ing or destroy­ing insur­gent infra­struc­ture, to include the lead­er­ship, but we also ensure that the plan­ning for local secu­ri­ty and good gov­er­nance begins ear­ly enough to be insert­ed and fol­low on as soon as the con­di­tions allow.”

This plan, Rodriguez said, is based on recog­ni­tion that absent a sweep­ing polit­i­cal set­tle­ment, “the best chance of sta­bi­liz­ing Afghanistan is to mobi­lize the peo­ple to demand the ful­fill­ment of their mod­est require­ments.”

The Afghan peo­ple, their gov­ern­ment and their secu­ri­ty forces all work­ing togeth­er toward a com­mon pur­pose “will squeeze out enough of the ene­mies of the Afghan peo­ple to build suf­fi­cient sta­bil­i­ty for Afghanistan in the future,” the gen­er­al said. Except for a reli­able flow of fund­ing from the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul to fund oper­at­ing costs and pro­vide basic ser­vices, Rodriguez said, most of those require­ments must be ful­filled at the local lev­els.

Rodriguez expressed hope that strat­e­gy under way will ensure suf­fi­cient secu­ri­ty across Afghanistan, but rec­og­nized that “oper­a­tional and tac­ti­cal suc­cess­es will take us only so far, giv­en the time con­straints we believe we will be under.”

He laid out plans to build ever-expand­ing secu­ri­ty zones, par­tic­u­lar­ly in key areas to the south and east, through 2014. But by the end of that year, Rodriguez said, the secu­ri­ty pock­ets are expect­ed to extend to all the areas the Afghans and coali­tion believe will cre­ate the sta­bil­i­ty need­ed to sta­bi­lize the entire coun­try.

In the mean­time, Rodriguez cit­ed progress toward that goal, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing last year’s focus in the Cen­tral Hel­mand Riv­er Val­ley, once the insurgency’s strong­hold, and in cur­rent oper­a­tions in Kan­da­har province. In addi­tion, Kab­ul, home to one-fifth of the pop­u­la­tion, is one of the safest regions of the coun­try.

Sim­i­lar gains are being real­ized in the east, but Rodriguez rec­og­nized that this area is expect­ed to be “the tough­est part of the tough neigh­bor­hood that will be Afghanistan for a long time.”

Despite “tru­ly incred­i­ble” oper­a­tions under way in Region­al Com­mand East, with “pret­ty remark­able” results, “we have a way to go in the east,” he acknowl­edged. “And nowhere will the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces be chal­lenged more,” the gen­er­al added.

Look­ing to the future, Rodriguez said his great­est con­cern is to pre­serve these gains as the Unit­ed States begins its draw­down in Afghanistan.

“I am con­cerned about a draw­down that is not total­ly aligned with grow­ing Afghan capa­bil­i­ties, or is so rapid that the army and police make mis­takes or tem­porar­i­ly leave gaps that, while not crit­i­cal in and of them­selves, make the people’s shaky con­fi­dence waver and their sur­vival instincts rise to the fore­front,” he said. “If this hap­pens, the Tal­iban can regain their foothold among a fear­ful pop­u­la­tion.”

Rodriguez also expressed con­cern about sup­port for the insur­gency that con­tin­ues to flow most­ly from the ungoverned areas of Pak­istan, as well as the parochial inter­ests of some of the for­mal and infor­mal lead­ers around Afghanistan.

“This is unac­cept­able,” he said. “And the Afghans, togeth­er with the coali­tion, have to start address­ing these chal­lenges more effec­tive­ly.”

Stand­ing up to that chal­lenge requires what Rodriguez said has yet to be achieved: strik­ing the prop­er bal­ance between respect­ing Afghan sov­er­eign­ty and demand­ing that Afghanistan adheres to the non-nego­tiable respon­si­bil­i­ties that come with that sov­er­eign­ty.

This includes stop­ping lead­ers “who steal mon­ey, oppor­tu­ni­ty and respect from the Afghan cit­i­zens,” he said. It also requires demand­ing that the Afghan gov­ern­ment stop those for­mal and infor­mal pow­er bro­kers who are direct­ly harm­ing U.S. and Afghan forces, he added.

Look­ing to the future and troop draw­down in Afghanistan, Rodriguez empha­sized that the coali­tion “will not chase tran­si­tion.”

“There is no faster way to dilute our efforts that we have worked so hard to focus on for the last sev­er­al years and undo all we have accom­plished [than] just to chase tran­si­tion,” he said. “We are going to … exe­cute a plan that the Afghans have devel­oped with us, and the nat­ur­al out­come of that will be tran­si­tion.”

Rodriguez called for a strate­gic agree­ment by 2014 that paves the way for the U.S.-Afghan rela­tion­ship from one of wartime expe­di­ent foot­ing to nor­mal­iza­tion. Doing so, he said, will offer assur­ances of long-term com­mit­ment, not just to the Afghan peo­ple, but also to the ene­my.

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

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