Gates Lauds Progress in Afghanistan’s Khowst Province
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 4, 2007 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates visited Afghanistan’s Khowst province today to see firsthand “a model of concerted counterinsurgency effort, the synergy that comes from an integration of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ powers.”
Speaking here today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his presidential palace during a joint news conference, Gates shared impressions of his visit earlier in the day to Khowst province, where he met with U.S. and provincial leaders there to learn about the region’s dramatic turnaround.
Khowst was “a region that for many years, decades even, had been a hotbed of lawlessness and insurgent activities,” the secretary said.
But thanks to a multifaceted operation under way there, it’s become a model of the combined elements of national power that Gates said he wants to see applied in more U.S. operations.
“The mission there extends far beyond the scope of traditional military operations into economic and civic development,” Gates said. “And under the governor’s leadership, there has been close cooperation between the (provincial reconstruction team), security forces, local officials and organizations, as well as the national government and the Afghan national government,” he said.
The effort has yielded “tangible results,” including a dramatic reduction in violence, the secretary said. He noted that suicide bombs in Khowst had averaged one per week, but have dropped to one per month.
Gates wanted to visit Khowst personally to witness what had been described to him as “a model of the combination of kinetic operations and comprehensive strategic development,” a senior defense official traveling with him told reporters.
Khowst, in many ways, is a living example of the concept, which Gates discussed at length late last month in a speech delivered during Kansas State University’s Landon Lecture series. The secretary urged greater application of all elements of U.S. national power to further U.S. interests and to ensure the country’s capability to respond to current and future threats.
Officials in Khowst briefed Gates today about the shift in 2005 from purely military, or “kinetic,” operations to the broader approach, which emphasizes working with local government leaders to promote good governance and infrastructure development.
“More has been done in Khowst in the past eight months than the previous five years,” Gov. Arsala Jamal said. He praised efforts that have improved the community’s quality of life and have people looking for the first time to their government for services they need.
As a result, extremism has become a less attractive option. “People in Khowst have been wavering and have been on the fence,” Jamal said. As they now see real efforts and improvements, they have come to support the government of Iraq, he said.
Visiting Khowst province’s Tirazye district center today, Gates talked with tribal elders about the changes the new approach there has made, particularly in terms of security. Officials thanked the secretary for support already provided, but told him more is needed, including a hospital for residents who now have to travel to Khowst city for care.
Gates assured continued help, but tempered expectations by emphasizing that needs are great throughout Afghanistan and that the central government and coalition will work together to address them.
The secretary has expressed optimism that successes like the one in Khowst could be replicated throughout Afghanistan. “Were having very good results (in Khowst), and we’re interested in ideas like how you might export concepts from this location to other parts of Afghanistan,” the defense official said.
Portuguese Gen. Carlos Branco, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force here, said it’s become clear that a comprehensive approach like the one that’s succeeding in Khowst needs to be applied throughout Afghanistan.
Branco shared Jamal’s assertion the broad application of these concepts generates support and confidence of the population for their government. This, he said, promotes security.
“We need a comprehensive approach: good governance, reconstruction and development,” he said. “It can’t be seen only in a military perspective.”