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Former U.S. Chief in Afghanistan Talks of Term

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2005 – The inauguration of President Hamid Karzai was the most memorable event of Army Lt. Gen. David Barno's 19-month tour as commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan.

Barno said that on that day his thoughts went to those killed in the effort to eject the Taliban. Their sacrifice made that day possible.

Barno spoke during a Pentagon interview today.

He said the 2004 election process in the country was also a memorable time for him. "We have 10.5 million people register to vote and had 8.5 million actually do it," he said. "We were thinking that if we had 5 million it would be a success."

Barno arrived at Bagram Air Base in July 2003. He left Kabul earlier this month. He saw many changes in the nation that once served as the safe haven for al Qaeda.

"On the military side, we were very much focused on the counterterrorist operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban," he said. U.S. and coalition forces were up in the mountains chasing the remnants of those groups.

The command had just embraced the provincial reconstruction team concept and there were a total of four, mostly in the east.

The Afghan population itself was still adjusting to the aftermath and wasn't quite sure about the utility of International Security Assistance Force or the U.S. and coalition forces, Barno said.

Warlords still ruled large swaths of the country and their militias were the law. The Afghan National Army - with about 6,000 men - was just starting to find its legs.

Of particular note: There was no constitution, no political process, very limited sovereignty. "All of those things shifted very dramatically in the 19 months I was there," he said. "We expanded our focus to a much more broad-based counterinsurgency strategy that stressed not only the important aspect of going after terrorist organizations, but to ensure we were building Afghan security forces." There are now 25,000 members of the Afghan National Army.

On the military side, U.S. and coalition forces were assigned areas that they had responsibility for. Before that, it was more a raid type situation. "We never really built relations with people in an area over a long period of time," the general said. "We embraced the counterinsurgency strategy."

Units now have regular and cordial relationships with local leaders. Troops have been to areas and know the lay of the land. The people in the region know the American and coalition soldiers and know they can approach them.

The growth in the number of provincial reconstruction teams has also helped in the counterinsurgency strategy. There are now 19 of the teams in the country today - 14 manned by coalition personnel and five by NATO troops and experts.

Barno said it was equally important to work reconstruction projects to show the Afghans the benefits of cooperating with the new infant government and the coalition.

His term also saw increased cooperation from allies in the region, especially Pakistan. "We were working with the Pakistanis to address issues on the border that were facilitating terrorist activities," Barno said.

Cooperation with the Pakistani military in the border areas between the countries has increased, and Pakistan's own crackdown in Waziristan has provided some significant successes, he said.

The U.S. and coalition forces will continue to track down the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban. The growing Afghan National Army is providing more manpower in the effort and, at the same time, spreading the effective control of the central government.

Huge challenges remain in Afghanistan, Barno noted. Cultivation of opium poppies and the money the narcotics bring are two problems that must be addressed. "The military is playing a very important supporting role against narcotics," he said.

The British is the lead international player in the counternarcotics effort, but the U.S. military supports that by providing intelligence, airlift for forces, equipment and a significant role in training some Afghan forces. "That training will probably grow significantly," he said.

The Afghans themselves are addressing the narcotics problem. Barno said he was encouraged by President Karzai's passionate speech against narcotics early this year. "Him addressing that and the Afghan response showed the Afghan people are taking ownership of the fight against narcotics," he said. Karzai is also asking for significant aid to help Afghan farmers find alternative livelihoods to growing poppies.

Fewer acres of poppies have been planted this year, but planners must wait until year's end to see how that works out, Barno said.

The growth of NATO effort in Afghanistan is also encouraging, the former commander said. In June, NATO takes over military responsibility for the western part of the country. This would mean alliance soldiers would have responsibility for the northern and western part of the country and coalition forces would be responsible for the southern and eastern sections.

"Next year the plan calls for NATO to take over the south and the year after the east," Barno said. "Those dates remain fluid and will shift as needed."

The alliance is generating the forces required to handle the mission. The challenge NATO faces comes when it moves into areas of the south and east where the terrorist threat is most acute. "NATO must be ready to conduct some degree of counterinsurgency operations," Barno said.

Barno said the U.S. and coalition effort in Afghanistan benefited from having a light footprint in the country. "It has forced us to take much more indirect approaches, and be much more culturally aware," he said. "It is an Afghan-centric approach to the challenges of working a counterinsurgency effort there. We may not have done that the same way with larger numbers of troops."

And servicemembers must be aware of this idea. "There are challenges out there still," Barno said. "The results of the Koran story show there is a residual feeling about foreigners and non-Muslims in Afghanistan."

Still, "during my time in Afghanistan I saw a tremendous growth in Afghan support - across all strata - for international involvement in Afghanistan and U.S. and coalition involvement in the country," he said.

The cost seems to be never far from the general's thought. "I lost 82 Americans killed during my time in the country and three coalition soldiers," he said. "But now there is a moderate Muslim constitution (in the country), they have elected their own government, and they turned out in astronomically large numbers to do so."

Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry replaced Barno in Afghanistan. Barno will become the Army assistant chief of staff for installation management.

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Combined Forces Command Afghanistan

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