Scaparrotti: ISAF Border Operations Continue, But With Care

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 14, 2011 — Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force oper­a­tions con­tin­ue in Afghanistan along the Pak­istan bor­der, but are con­duct­ed with spe­cial care to avoid esca­lat­ing cur­rent ten­sions, a senior com­man­der said here today.

Army Lt. Gen. Cur­tis M. Scaparrot­ti, com­man­der of the ISAF Joint Com­mand and deputy com­man­der of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, told reporters dur­ing a round­table dis­cus­sion that suc­cess in Afghanistan requires close com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Pak­istan.

Rela­tions between ISAF and Pak­istan have been tense since the cross-bor­der inci­dent Nov. 26 that left 24 Pak­istani sol­diers dead.

Pak­istani author­i­ties have closed ground sup­ply routes through their coun­try and end­ed Amer­i­can use of the Sham­si air­base.

Scaparrot­ti declined to dis­cuss the bor­der inci­dent in light of the ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion but, acknowl­edg­ing his pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al asso­ci­a­tion with Pak­istani mil­i­tary lead­ers, expressed con­do­lences about the lives lost.

“What hap­pened is a tragedy,” he said.

Scaparrot­ti said ISAF con­tin­ues to com­mu­ni­cate reg­u­lar­ly with the Pak­istani mil­i­tary as before the inci­dent, but coor­di­na­tion is not as close as it has been in the past.

“We are being a lit­tle more care­ful,” he acknowl­edged. “But we are still run­ning inter­dic­tion. We are still work­ing with the Afghans right on the bor­der posts. We are still run­ning recon­nais­sance and doing the things … that we need to do. And as I said, we are still press­ing the Pak mil­i­tary so that we can con­tin­ue com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

Scaparrot­ti said he believes “over time, we will [regain] that coor­di­na­tion, that com­mu­ni­ca­tion that we had in the past.”

The Novem­ber inci­dent has caused ISAF lead­ers to con­sid­er ways to bol­ster the coor­di­na­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion along the bor­der, where insur­gent provo­ca­tion can have a dead­ly effect.

“There are cer­tain­ly inci­dents where insur­gents along the bor­der have insti­gat­ed a fight [using] direct fires or indi­rect fires, and they have done so in prox­im­i­ty to [Pak­istani] mil­i­tary bor­der loca­tions,” the gen­er­al said. “We think it was to draw our atten­tion, or per­haps, in some instances, to draw con­flict here between Afghan, coali­tion or Pak­istan forces.”

Such provo­ca­tions are one rea­son “we are work­ing very hard, as we have in the past, to devel­op bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the [Pak­istani] mil­i­tary on the oth­er side of the bor­der,” the gen­er­al said. “That has been one of our pri­or­i­ties.”

A work­ing rela­tion­ship between Afghanistan and Pak­istan is crit­i­cal for both nations, he said.

“It is impor­tant for the region,” he said. “And it is impor­tant for us to move for­ward. It is impor­tant to Afghanistan because they have neigh­bors that they have to have a coop­er­a­tive rela­tion­ship [with] on their bor­ders as well.”

As the tran­si­tion from ISAF to Afghan secu­ri­ty lead gains steam, the gen­er­al said, the capa­bil­i­ties of Afghanistan’s forces are anoth­er cru­cial focus of ISAF efforts.

Scaparrot­ti pre­vi­ous­ly com­mand­ed the 82nd Air­borne Divi­sion and deployed as com­man­der of Joint Task Force-82 with respon­si­bil­i­ty for Region­al Com­mand East in 2009. He returned to Afghanistan in July 2011 after a year away, and said he’s impressed by the gains achieved in the inter­im.

“It is clear that today … we have the ini­tia­tive in this fight,” he said. “I see it in the ter­rain we hold and the ter­rain that the [Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces] hold com­pared to a year ago.”

Afghan secu­ri­ty forces also have devel­oped bet­ter lead­ers through­out their com­mand struc­ture, he said.

“We are pro­duc­ing a bet­ter leader that goes into their army,” Scaparrot­ti said, with Afghan corps and brigade com­man­ders now also more expe­ri­enced than a year ago.

Still, as more oper­a­tional respon­si­bil­i­ty pass­es to Afghan forces, their com­mand-and-con­trol, sup­ply and main­te­nance, and counter-bomb capa­bil­i­ties must increase, he not­ed.

Afghan forces are strug­gling to estab­lish and strength­en their logis­tics, sup­ply and main­te­nance abil­i­ties, he said, adding that aid­ing those efforts is an ISAF focus point.

“They [also] have to devel­op the capac­i­ty to deal with [road­side bombs] as we are capa­ble of deal­ing with them. And that capac­i­ty is com­ing along as well,” he added.

The gen­er­al not­ed ISAF forces are close to achiev­ing the 10,000-troop draw­down set for this year, and will reduce by anoth­er 23,000 by the end of sum­mer 2012, leav­ing 68,000 ser­vice mem­bers where there are now rough­ly 91,000.

“As we look at the draw­down of forces, we are look­ing care­ful­ly at the envi­ron­ment that devel­ops and then the bal­ance — I call it the pos­ture of the force that we need,” Scaparrot­ti said.

As its forces dwin­dle, ISAF must main­tain its abil­i­ty to muster joint fires, allo­cate intel­li­gence assets, and deploy lift and route-clear­ance teams, he not­ed.

“It is those things that as we draw down the num­ber of maneu­ver forces here down to 68,000 after next Sep­tem­ber, that we will look at very close­ly,” he added.

“I am con­fi­dent at this point, although we are still work­ing the strat­e­gy, that we are going to be able to con­tin­ue to [68,000] as we come down through this fight­ing sea­son to that objec­tive here in the fall,” Scaparrot­ti said.

Civil­ian gov­ern­ment and admin­is­tra­tive capa­bil­i­ty like­wise remains a key focus, he said.

“The gov­er­nance with­in Afghanistan has steadi­ly made progress in terms of their abil­i­ty to deliv­er both rep­re­sen­ta­tion and basic ser­vices for the peo­ple,” Scaparrot­ti added.

(Editor’s note: Karen Par­rish con­tributed to this arti­cle.)

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

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