KABUL, Afghanistan, March 2, 2016 —
Afghanistan has made tremendous progress over the years, and it remains a “very, very worthy” security investment, the commander of U.S. Central Command said here today.
Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III stressed the progress Afghanistan has made and praised the team of Afghan, coalition and American personnel that made it possible. Austin spoke during the change-of-command ceremony where Army Gen. John F. Campbell passed the U.S. and NATO colors to Army Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr.
Austin compared his early experience in Afghanistan to what is happening today. He served as commander of the 10th Mountain Division in 2003-2004. “It was the early stages of the war and we had fewer than 12,000 U.S. and coalition forces on the ground,” he said. “Much of our focus was on helping our Afghan partners establish a second battalion of officers and trained soldiers and to develop their warfighting skills.”
Today, the Afghan security forces consist of 325,000 Afghans “and those forces are taking the fight to the enemy and they are providing for the security of the country,” Austin said.
This progress, he said, is a testament to the team -- military, civilians, contractors, Afghans, Americans and coalition partners -- working together to accomplish shared goals and objectives.
“These past 18 months have been critical, and the team’s success has reflected the exceptional leadership of General John Campbell,” Austin said. “He is the epitome of a soldier, a statesman and a true professional. He is a warrior.”
Under Campbell’s leadership, the team has dealt with tough challenges and been remarkably effective in dealing with them, Austin said. The team transitioned from the International Security Assistance Force to the Resolute Support Mission. It transitioned from a combat role to one of support.
The underlying idea is that enduring security and stability in the country can only be achieved by the government and the people of Afghanistan, Austin said. The coalition team, he said, has worked closely with Afghan leaders and forged strong relationships. All this, he added, is aimed at building and maturing the necessary Afghan security institutions and systems.
At the same time, coalition and Afghan leaders are strengthening relationships with the neighboring countries of Pakistan, India and the Central Asian states, Austin said.
“This fighting season was the first where [Afghan forces] were in the lead and responsible for the security of the country,” Austin said. “And they faced a determined enemy that continues to attempt everything in its power to cause the Afghan security forces to fail.
“But they haven’t failed,” he continued. “They are holding their own. They are showing the world what this team already knew: The Afghans are very capable and while they still may need some help in developing some of the more advanced capabilities like aviation and logistics, the fact is they have demonstrated the ability to provide security for the country.”
Afghan conventional forces have proved to be highly capable fighters that routinely conduct combined arms operations with little to no coalition assistance, the Central Command chief said.
“Afghanistan’s special operations forces are becoming the best in the region,” he said. “And the Afghan air force is enabling those ground elements.”
Austin added, “There is more work to be done and it will take time. However, this remains a very, very worthy investment.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)