Stavridis: Afghanistan Strategy Remains on Track

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 — Despite recent inci­dents that he acknowl­edged tem­porar­i­ly have set back progress in Afghanistan, NATO’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer said he’s con­fi­dent the strat­e­gy there is suc­ceed­ing and will con­tin­ue to bear fruit.

“Every time we have an inci­dent like we did sev­er­al weeks ago, it sets us back,” Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis con­ced­ed dur­ing an inter­view with the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel and Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. “But despite a very chal­leng­ing cou­ple of weeks that we have had in Afghanistan, I am quite con­fi­dent that our fun­da­men­tal strat­e­gy remains sound.”

Stavridis cit­ed broad efforts to pre­vent civil­ian casu­al­ties while coun­ter­ing the insur­gency and help­ing to strength­en Afghan secu­ri­ty forces as they move into the secu­ri­ty lead. “We will con­tin­ue to focus on pro­tect­ing the peo­ple of Afghanistan,” he said, using “every means at our dis­pos­al to reduce casu­al­ties to an absolute min­i­mum.”

The tran­si­tion to an Afghan secu­ri­ty lead, to be com­plet­ed across Afghanistan by the end of 2014, remains solid­ly on track, he report­ed.

“We have already turned over 50 per­cent of the coun­try to an Afghan secu­ri­ty lead. This sum­mer and fall, we will move that up to about 75 per­cent,” the admi­ral said. “And as we get into 2013, I think we will be on a good glide path to com­plete this tran­si­tion to an Afghan secu­ri­ty lead by 2014.”

As this tran­si­tion takes place, Stavridis said he is struck by the vast improve­ments he has wit­nessed with­in the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces. “That has been an extra­or­di­nary sto­ry, in my view,” he said, recall­ing strides made par­tic­u­lar­ly since ear­ly 2010 as coali­tion and Afghan forces began mov­ing into Mar­jah.

“As we built that oper­a­tion, we had sev­en coali­tion sol­diers for every one Afghan sol­dier,” he said. “Today in that region, we have almost two Afghans for every coali­tion sol­dier. We see the Afghans increas­ing tak­ing the lead.”

Afghanistan’s army and nation­al police have passed the 320,000-member mark, he not­ed. “Their num­bers are grow­ing,” he said. “Their capa­bil­i­ties are grow­ing.”

Equal­ly encour­ag­ing, he said, are high approval rat­ings the Afghan peo­ple are giv­ing their secu­ri­ty forces. One well-respect­ed poll shows almost 90-per­cent approval for the Afghan Nation­al Army, mak­ing it the most respect­ed insti­tu­tion in Afghanistan, Stavridis said. Approval rat­ings for police are approach­ing 80 per­cent.

“They are far from per­fect,” he said. “They need help, sup­port, men­tor­ing [and] fund­ing, but as a coher­ent nation­al force, they have improved dra­mat­i­cal­ly.”

Stavridis cred­it­ed the steady pos­i­tive inter­ac­tions between U.S. and Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force troops and their Afghan coun­ter­parts with build­ing the trust that has allowed this progress to take root.

“Every day in Afghanistan, we see 140,000 coali­tion sol­diers oper­at­ing along­side 320,000 Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces,” he said. “Every day there are lit­er­al­ly tens of thou­sands of moments where real trust is built, where oper­a­tions are con­duct­ed togeth­er.”

This foun­da­tion of trust is strong enough to over­come tem­po­rary set­backs, he said.

“So we have got to keep a per­spec­tive on the sev­er­al very trag­ic inci­dents that have occurred and do set us back,” he said. “But I think they are bal­anced by this large, huge num­ber of inter­ac­tions that are in fact pos­i­tive and do build trust and real­ly are ‘Shohna ba Shohna,’ as we say in Dari — ‘shoul­der to shoul­der.’ ”

Stavridis said this gives him con­fi­dence that progress will con­tin­ue and that the Afghanistan strat­e­gy will suc­ceed.

“We are not going to kill our way to suc­cess. We are not even going to fight our way to suc­cess,” he said. “We are going to train and tran­si­tion our way to suc­cess in Afghanistan. And it is going to be dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing, but as I look back on three years in com­mand, that is where I have seen the most progress.”

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