NATO Takes Lead for Operations Throughout Afghanistan
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2006 NATO took the lead for international military operations throughout Afghanistan today, assuming authority from the coalition for 14 eastern provinces at a ceremony in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Regional Command East is the last of four regional NATO commands in its International Security Assistance Force to assume authority from the coalition.
In a statement issued today, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO will now carry out its United Nations-mandated mission -- to extend the authority of the Afghan government and to create the conditions for reconstruction and development -- throughout the whole country, building on the efforts of the U.S.-led coalition.
“The expansion of the NATO-ISAF mission is a reflection of the alliance’s unflagging commitment to help the Afghan people build a better future for themselves,” the secretary-general said. “As part of that effort, NATO will soon also begin providing equipment and training to the Afghan National Army.
“In Afghanistan, there can be no development without security,” he continued, “and there will be no long-term security without development. Therefore, all international actors need to work closely together, supporting and reinforcing each other in order to maximize their efforts and to promote Afghan ownership.”
With the transfer, 12,000 of the 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now are part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. The remaining 8,000 remain assigned to Combined Forces Command Afghanistan to conduct counterterrorism efforts, train Afghan security forces and provide combat service support.
“This historic day marks another chapter in the continuing progress of Afghanistan and underscores the (NATO) alliance’s commitment to helping the Afghan people rebuild their country,” said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, commander of CFCA.
Eikenberry stressed that the transfer of authority doesn’t mean a diminished role for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
“I want to emphasize to the people of Afghanistan and our common enemies that the United States remains absolutely committed to NATO,” he said. “Our missions and forces on the ground remain unchanged. In short, the United States has been here since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, and we will not leave Afghanistan until the job is done.”
The United States will remain the largest contributor of troops and capability in Afghanistan, the general said.
CFCA officials in Kabul today said that as a result of the transfer, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan will reorganize in the coming months. Eikenberry will remain as the national commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, officials said. He also will maintain command of the U.S. effort to train and equip the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, and will oversee U.S. military reconstruction and economic development efforts. He also will continue to conduct regional engagement for the U.S. military in support to U.S. Central Command and the Department of Defense.
“We will maintain our strong national capability in support of our counterterrorism mission to strike al Qaeda and its associated movements wherever and whenever they are found,” Eikenberry said at the transfer ceremony. “Moreover, our military will continue to play a central role in training and equipping the Afghan national security forces, and we will maintain our important contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction.”
The general noted the contributions of military and civilian personnel from 23 nations who have served over the past five years as members of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. “Their great sacrifices and accomplishments will merit chapters in the future histories of the new Afghanistan,” he said. “The coalition and its Afghan allies, through decisive military operations in late 2001 and early 2002, toppled the dark forces that had threatened international security and imposed their hateful vision on the common Afghan citizen.”
Today, he said, Afghan and international forces continue to press the fight “against a vicious enemy whose commanders send young boys to their death while avoiding combat themselves – an enemy who sends suicide bombers into markets to kill women, an enemy who so fears the light of knowledge that he burns down schools and slaughters innocent children and their teachers, an enemy so cowardly that he kills voices of moderation and hope, whether a venerated religious leader or a patriotic governor who was armed only with a sense of duty and decency.”
Eikenberry cited various coalition accomplishments over the last five years, including the formation and progress of Afghanistan’s army.
“The Afghan National Army, now some 35,000 strong, is an increasingly tough and resilient combat force, respected by the Afghan people as a tangible and promising sign of national unity,” he said. “Indeed, the ANA has become a national asset with its emphasis on discipline, service to the nation, respect for the rule of law, and literacy and education – an institution that boasts Afghanistan’s most advanced medical, legal, training and merit-based promotion systems.”
He also noted progress in Afghanistan’s civil sector. “The coalition has likewise been instrumental in the building of the police forces, providing training, equipment and mentoring,” he said. “Coalition efforts have advanced governance and justice in Afghanistan. In late 2002, the coalition established the first provincial reconstruction team in Gardez, Paktia province. The success of this innovation led to some 23 PRTs throughout Afghanistan, bringing the benefits of development and security directly to the people of their provinces.”
A rigorous “Afghan First” program also marks the coalition’s lasting effect on the country, Eikenberry said.
“By seeking to buy and hire inside of Afghanistan, we have reached a point where coalition contracts provide work on a daily basis for some 20,000 Afghan citizens, with hundreds of millions of dollars flowing to Afghan contractors and subcontractors,” he noted. “These contractors will increasingly employ skilled Afghan labor forces, who will put their abilities to work in furtherance of national economic development.”
Also, hundreds of thousands of Afghan citizens have received medical care from coalition medical personnel and Afghan Army medical personnel trained by coalition forces. Countless schools and health clinics have been built, the general said.
The coalition also has been successful on the reconstruction front, Eikenberry said.
“Thousands of kilometers of roads have been constructed, many by U.S. military engineers deployed to Afghanistan solely for that purpose,” he said. “During this past year, a record $218 million in coalition emergency reconstruction money was spent on economic and social infrastructure in eastern and southern Afghanistan.” To date, $1.04 billion dollars has been committed to the construction of facilities for Afghan national security forces.
Each year, Eikenberry added, contractors pay more than $45.5 million in salaries for Afghan laborers.
“For these many accomplishments, as well as many others too numerous to recount, achieved under the most difficult of circumstances, let me again express the gratitude of the leaders of the coalition as well as the people of the United States of America.”
Eikenberry acknowledged that much remains to be done.
“NATO-ISAF will face formidable challenges as it moves forward with its mission, but I have served over this past one and a half years side by side with NATO, and am confident that they – or, as an American, I will say we -- will prevail,” he said.