USA / Afghanistan

Gates Pledges More Resources to Fight Pro­tract­ed War in Afghanistan
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec. 11, 2008 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates today pledged more resources to top com­man­ders in south­ern Afghanistan for what he said like­ly will be a pro­tract­ed fight.
Gates met with Army Gen. David D. McK­ier­nan, com­man­der of NATO’s Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, for an update on progress and to get the general’s input on the way ahead. The sec­re­tary also met with deputy com­man­ders from oth­er nations based in the region.

Gates said the chal­lenges in the region are marked with vio­lence fueled by extrem­ists and a boom­ing drug trade. But, he promised, the alliance is up to the task.

We are all here … to help the Afghan peo­ple and gov­ern­ment in their strug­gle for peace and pros­per­i­ty,” Gates told reporters. “This is, after all, their coun­try, their fight, and their future.”

Gates said the mis­sion will expand sig­nif­i­cant­ly, with more resources and troops com­ing from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty and plans in progress to near­ly dou­ble the size of Afghanistan’s army while help­ing to devel­op gov­er­nance and a sta­ble econ­o­my.

The Afghan Nation­al Army is near­ing 80,000 troops, and the Afghan Nation­al Police has almost 82,000 offi­cers. The army is expect­ed to grow to 134,000 in the next four years, while the police force has near­ly reached its intend­ed cap. Gates and McK­ier­nan said the inter­na­tion­al­ly man­dat­ed cap needs to be removed and the police force expand­ed.

This nation has seen too much war in the last decades,” Gates said. “Only togeth­er can we defeat the ene­mies of Afghanistan and secure the last­ing peace that the peo­ple of Afghanistan deserve.”

Gates stopped short of promis­ing a spe­cif­ic num­ber of troops from the Unit­ed States, besides the brigade com­bat team slat­ed for deploy­ment in Jan­u­ary. But, Gates said, Pres­i­dent-elect Barack Oba­ma has said he wants more troops and resources sent to Afghanistan. Gates said he hopes to send two more brigades here by late spring, but that Oba­ma will make that deci­sion based on rec­om­men­da­tions by his top mil­i­tary lead­ers after he takes office.

McK­ier­nan esti­mates he needs as many as 20,000 more troops here, includ­ing more intel­li­gence and recon­nais­sance assets, avi­a­tion, engi­neers and mil­i­tary police. Com­man­ders say they need the extra troops to reach out to remote vil­lages and rur­al areas.

McK­ier­nan has asked for three ground-maneu­ver brigades in addi­tion to the one slat­ed to deploy here in Jan­u­ary, whether they be U.S. Army or Marines. He said he needs the troops “soon­er than lat­er,” as his force is ready­ing for upcom­ing Afghan nation­al elec­tions next year and is push­ing hard against the insur­gency in remote areas.

The gen­er­al said he does not think the insur­gency is get­ting stronger, despite increased vio­lence.

I don’t see the insur­gency get­ting stronger, and I see the vast major­i­ty of peo­ple who live in Afghanistan con­tin­u­ing to reject what the Tal­iban brings,” he said. “They don’t want what the Tal­iban brings.”

McK­ier­nan said the increased vio­lence is a result of his forces rout­ing insur­gents from new areas.

We’re oper­at­ing and extend­ing secu­ri­ty into areas of this coun­try that we weren’t in a year ago, and with that is going to come con­tact with insur­gent or crim­i­nal groups,” he explained.

Also, he said, insur­gents and crim­i­nal groups have shift­ed their tac­tics away from large groups attack­ing large tar­gets. They now oper­ate in small­er, more asym­met­ric and com­plex attacks against vul­ner­a­ble tar­gets such as con­voys, gov­ern­ment agen­cies and police.

Still, Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are becom­ing more capa­ble, which is key to the long-term secu­ri­ty of the area, McK­ier­nan said. His forces are start­ing to work in part­ner­ship with the Afghan forces, includ­ing them at the start of the plan­ning, and strik­ing mutu­al­ly agreed-upon tar­gets.

They know this coun­try. They know the ter­rain. They know the pop­u­la­tion. They know the ene­my far bet­ter than we do,” McK­ier­nan said.

Part of the addi­tion­al forces request­ed will be used to men­tor the Afghan army and police, liv­ing and oper­at­ing with them side by side to help them become more capa­ble so they can take the lead in Afghan secu­ri­ty, McK­ier­nan said. But although he said he wants to see the Afghan forces grow over the next four years, he cau­tioned against mov­ing too fast.

We want to go as fast as we can; this coun­try needs its own secu­ri­ty forces,” he said. “But you don’t want to go too fast that you end up build­ing an army that’s not the right army.”

And, McK­ier­nan said, increased secu­ri­ty alone will not be the sin­gle fac­tor in paving the way to a brighter future for the impov­er­ished coun­try that has been pum­meled by war for three decades.

The secu­ri­ty line of oper­a­tion can­not work with­out gov­er­nance and with­out devel­op­ment,” he said. “They all have to work togeth­er for com­pre­hen­sive effects to defeat this insur­gency and bring a bet­ter future for Afghanistan.”

By Fred W. Bak­er III
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice