World Cannot Give Up on Afghanistan, Coalition Officials Say
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 28, 2006
The world cannot give up on Afghanistan or “we’ll be right back where we were on Sept. 10, 2001,” a spokesman for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan said here.
Army Col. Thomas W. Collins said the world cannot afford to let the Taliban come back to power in the country. The world cannot allow groups like al Qaeda to have free rein to plan and execute the attacks like that of 9-11.
Coalition, NATO and Afghan forces are working together to defeat the terrorist threat in the short-run and help the Afghan people prosper so extremist ideologies don’t appeal to them.
Attacks have increased in 2006, Collins said. Taliban forces have reconstituted to a degree, he said, but this is more than a Taliban resurgence. “There are a number of components to the enemy, here,” he said in an interview. “One component is the insurgency, and that is mostly confined to the south and east of the country.”
Operation Mountain Thrust in the south has tamped down some of that insurgency. “There has been hard fighting to be sure,” Collins said. “The Taliban has shown they can operate in larger formations; they have better command and control; they have some better weaponry; and they’ve improved themselves. But we’ve made great progress against them in the past month and a half.”
Economic conditions drive some Afghans to the arms of the Taliban. “A lot of the fighters in the Taliban these days are young men who are disaffected who don’t have a lot of opportunity,” Collins said. “The Taliban pays them something like $15 a day to fight the coalition or foreign forces, and a lot of them being killed in the field.
“(Such young men) are paying a price because they wanted a job, but they are not ideologically driven,” Collins said.
Not all violence in Afghanistan can be attributed to the Taliban. Tribal disputes also lead to violence, Collins said. An attack in Kabul that killed a young girl yesterday was attributed to a feud between two groups.
The causes and extent of violence vary from region to region. Land disputes and narcotrafficking also lead to violence, Collins said. “And then you have a general criminal element that is able to thrive in some areas because of a lack of government institutions or presence to stop them,” said he added.
Hunting down and killing insurgents won’t lead to an end of violence, Collins said. Leaders need to provide an environment in which people aren’t attracted to extremist viewpoints.
Improving infrastructure also will give Afghans more opportunities to make a livelihood legally. Thirty years of war in the country destroyed whatever infrastructure there was. “It’s more than simply building roads or bridges or clinics; it is helping the government of Afghanistan get on its feet to reestablish judicial institutions, police reforms, things to get the basic things that we Americans take for granted off the ground here,” Collins said.
The rule of law also needs to take root in the country, Collins said. People have to be able to expect that police will help when there is a danger or that disputes can be solved legally. “Most Afghans don’t have access to that now,” he said. “We are working with the government in many areas to stand up these institutions to give them these capabilities.”
Security training is critical in Afghanistan, and raining Afghan soldiers and police is progressing. “Two years ago, Afghanistan didn’t really have an army,” Collins said. “Today, their army of about 33,000 trained and equipped troops is in the field actively engaged with the enemy in the south and east and various parts of this country.”
Progress is somewhat slower in the police ranks. Collins reported that 37,000 police officers are trained and equipped, with another 23,000 trained but not fully equipped for mission requirements. “It all comes down to resources,” he said. “We are turning out those resources as quickly as we can but they have to be trained and they have to be equipped, or they just won’t be effective.”
Corruption has posed significant challenges for the police, Collins said. But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has instituted reforms to address such problems. “The Afghans are starting to pay police better, and they have to meet higher standards,” Collins said.
But no one can deny the progress Afghans are making, the colonel said. “Today there are 6 million kids in school -- 2 million of which are girls,” he said. Before U.S.-led coalition operations began in Afghanistan in late 2001, girls were banned from schools in the country.
NATO is assuming a greater share of the security mission. In the next few days, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force will assume responsibility for the southern sector of the country. ISAF will assume responsibility for the whole country by the end of the year, Collins said.
The U.S. still will maintain a strong presence. “The bottom line is that the American troop level of roughly 20,000 is going to remain constant for awhile,” Collins said. “The United States will contribute over half of the NATO force here. We are a major part of NATO and will remain so.”
The United States military will also hang on to three separate missions. “We will continue our very aggressive counterterrorism capability,” he said. “That’s with the full support of NATO.”
The United States also will retain the role of training the Afghan security forces, and U.S. engineers will continue reconstruction.
“But the largest number of Americans will be in the field conducting operations, and they will come under the command and control of NATO,” Collins said. U.S. forces will be predominantly in the eastern section of the country.
With NATO’s arrival, there will be more troops in the area. In the south, NATO will have 9,000 troops. When Afghan soldiers and police are added to the mix, this will put tremendous pressure on Taliban extremists, the colonel said.
He also praised Pakistan for its cooperation along the border between the two countries. He said coalition officials feel that recent criticism of Pakistan is unfair. “Looking at the Afghan-Pakistan border geography, it’s very difficult terrain and a porous border,” he said. “It’s not like there is a white line painted on the ground and there’s a watch tower every hundred meters. It’s nothing like that.”
The area also straddles a Pashtun tribal belt. “For hundreds of years people have lived in this area and didn’t recognize the border,” he said. “Tribes moved back and forth across the border at will.
“The Pakistani military has 80,000 troops on the border and is doing what it can,” he continued. “The coalition and Afghans have troops on their side. Nonetheless, infiltration remains a problem. But I would say that no one has killed or captured more terrorists than the Pakistanis have. And nobody has suffered more casualties in this struggle than the Pakistanis. Blood counts here, and they have certainly shed blood.”
Collins said U.S. servicemembers serving in Afghanistan need the support of the American people. “(Americans) tend to forget what’s going on here in Afghanistan,” he said. “In the past year, the enemy has reconstituted himself to a degree. There’s been a lot of hard fighting. This year has been a violent year, and many coalition and Afghan soldiers have been killed. It’s important that the American people never forget that this is where the war on terror began and where it continues today.”