Combined Forces Bolster Institutions in Afghanistan
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
The international coalition in Afghanistan continues to make progress by disrupting insurgent networks, bolstering national security forces and strengthening Afghan institutions, a top military official said today [January 8 2008].
Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, deputy commanding general for operations for Combined Joint Task Force – 82, spoke to Pentagon reporters via video teleconference from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
In conjunction with NATO and Afghan partners, Combined Joint Task Force – 82 “continues to pursue a comprehensive strategy to build Afghan national security capacity that will enable development and governance,” Votel said.
In “full-spectrum operations,” combined forces are isolating insurgents from the civilian population, disrupting terrorist support networks, limiting their freedom of movement and highlighting the emptiness of the insurgent vision, he said.
The general said insurgents in the CJTF – 82 area of operations have limited options: reconcile with combined forces, flee, or remain in the country and be killed or captured.
“We believe this strategy is working,” he said. “We are increasing the connection between the Afghan people and their government, building trust in Afghan institutions, and solidifying support for the government.”
Afghan national security forces remain the centerpiece of the comprehensive security strategy and constantly are improving their capacity to plan and conduct operations, Votel said.
Two Afghan commando battalions are operational in Afghanistan, and a third will join the force next month. Votel said these units provide significantly improved capability for the 47,000-strong Afghan national army.
Afghan soldiers and police successfully conducted about half of the operations targeting insurgent leaders over roughly the past six weeks in Votel’s area of operations, the general noted.
In the volatile Afghan-Pakistan border region, Votel said, incidents last month were 41 percent lower than the number of border incidents in December 2006. Last month’s incidents numbered half of the 12-month average, he added.
Combined-force operators began a program in December to train Afghan police units, Votel said. “This program will allow for the professional training of officers and police leaders, who will then be reinserted into their districts better able to serve their people,” he explained.
Since Votel last briefed Pentagon reporters in July 2007, security has improved in 73 of the 160 Afghan districts in CJTF – 82′s area of responsibility. Security has declined in 11 over the same period, he said.
The general attributed the overall increase in part to contributions by NATO forces.
“In addition to provincial reconstruction teams from New Zealand and Turkey, and soon from the Czech Republic, as well as medical resources from Egypt and the Republic of Korea, we are ably served by an alliance of an 1,100-soldier-strong contingent from Poland,” he said.
Votel said Afghanistan’s governance continues to improve. He cited an influx of Pakistani refuges into the country as evidence that Afghanistan’s situation is more stable than that in Pakistan. Officials in Pakistan have responded by working with international agencies and Pakistani ministries on providing timely humanitarian assistance to those displaced, he added.
Khowst, a southeastern Afghan province of roughly 300,000 people, represents the strongest example of good governance in Afghanistan, Votel said. He praised the province’s governor for quickly resolving disputes in the region.
“The tribal base culture in Regional Command East is beginning to gain confidence and trust in the government and their leaders,” Votel said. “In our area here, where there were no centers of government in 2002, there are now a total of 78 operating district centers, with 48 more under construction.”
The general cited increased health care as aiding security efforts in Afghanistan. According to a recent survey, he said, 79 percent said they had access to basic health care, compared to 8 percent under the Taliban regime. Since May, CJTF – 82 has coordinated more than 200 “medical engagements” between health care providers and Afghan citizens.
Other factors aiding progress include thousands of kilometers in new roads and a boost in elementary education in Regional Command East, where roughly 97 percent of boys and 52 percent of girls have access to schools, Votel said. In contrast, the school system in 2001 essentially was moribund.
Votel highlighted contrasts between the current Afghan administration and the former Taliban-governed Afghanistan, noting that Taliban and other insurgents continue to target civilians with suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices.
“The government of Afghanistan, supported by its international partners, offers an opportunity for self-reliance, improved security, commitment to representative government and economic viability,” he said. “The insurgents offer fear and uncertainty.”
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