Abizaid Discusses Progress in Afghanistan
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Feb. 20, 2005 U.S. and coalition forces have made significant progress against the al Qaeda terrorist group and remnants of the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but the coalition must remain vigilant because the threat has not been completely eliminated, the U.S. general in charge of forces in the region said.
Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of the U.S. Central Command, visited Afghanistan Feb. 18-19, during a tour of countries in the region. While in Afghanistan, he met with troops and senior leaders, and received briefings about the situation in the area.
"Afghanistan is a place where military and economic, political and diplomatic activity at both the national level of the United States and also the international level came together in a way that, over the three years that we've been operating there, has shown interesting progress," said Abizaid, who is responsible for an area that includes the Middle East, central Asia and the horn of Africa.
Afghanistan's first free elections, held in November 2004, along with the end of decades of war in the country, marked major milestones for the nation, Abizaid said.
The general said progress in Afghanistan can be seen in "the establishment of an elected Afghan government, reconstruction projects that showed some tangible progress, the cessation of hostilities after 25 years worth of hostilities in the vast majority of the country, pretty effective counterinsurgency and counterterrorism activity by coalition forces, and a general belief, probably most importantly, by people of the country that things can get better."
The vast majority of Afghan people is tired of war and only wants to lead a better life, Abizaid said. He added that most Afghans have come to realize that al Qaeda and the Taliban have nothing to offer them, so they are increasingly denying anti-coalition fighters any support.
"One of the things that made us successful against al Qaeda in Afghanistan is that the Afghans tell us when Arab fighters show up somewhere, they tell us when there's a cache somewhere," Abizaid said. "Once they realize that their tormentors could actually be pushed out, ... they have come our way and told us about them and enabled our military operations."
Though things are looking good for the coalition and the people of Afghanistan, Abizaid noted, anti-coalition elements have not been completely eliminated from the country, and he warned against underestimating the enemy.
"As optimistic as I am about the situation in Afghanistan, the insurgents aren't completely defeated. Al Qaeda has not completely disappeared from there," Abizaid said. "While there has been a tremendous amount of progress and people are generally very optimistic, there can be a series of events that can move it in a direction that is unanticipated or start to move toward a bad security situation. While we're optimistic, we have to still remain vigilant."
One of the primary coalition units serving in Afghanistan over the past year has been the 25th Infantry Division, base at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The unit is preparing to rotate back to its home station over the next few weeks, after spending a year in Afghanistan. The Southern European Task Force, based in Vicenza, Italy, will replace the 25th.
Abizaid emphasized to departing leaders the importance of passing along knowledge they gained during their deployment. He told members of the 25th "they are responsible for the first 90 days of the new unit that inherits their battle space, that they should take it as a professional challenge that they gained through a year of hard combat," Abizaid said.
"We almost always face a problem of new units coming in and new units having to learn the tough lessons of combat," he said. "What I want our professional troops to do is to pass on those lessons to whatever extent they can by just really taking ownership for the new folks who are coming in behind them."
Though much has been accomplished in Afghanistan, Abizaid said, much remains to be done. "We've got to continue to work for the trust of the Afghan people and still hunt down the enemies of the peace," he said.