Coalition Forces in Eastern Afghanistan Increase Operations
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2008 Coalition and Afghan forces in Regional Command East have increased the operations tempo 300 percent over this time last year, a top officer in Afghanistan said today.
Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel, Combined Joint Task force 82 deputy commander for operations, said the jump in operations tempo is due primarily to the increased capacity of the Afghan security forces in the region.
There have been 36 attacks in the 14 provinces of Regional Command East this month, putting it on pace to be 35 percent below February 2007 numbers.
“Our tactical focus in the last couple of weeks has been the interdiction of (improvised-explosive-device) facilitators and continuing to focus on freedom of movement in the command,” Votel said in a conference call from his unit’s headquarters at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
The operational focus is to extend the reach of the Afghan government to let economic development take place.
Afghan security forces, particularly the country’s army, remain in the lead with support from coalition forces, the general said.
“Their proficiency continues to grow,” he said. “One of the key things we’re seeing right now is with their commando battalions; they are very highly trained and are operating throughout our area and having some very good effects. We think, ultimately, this capability is going to raise the standard throughout the army.”
The command had the first two police units return after intensive retraining. “We look forward to evaluating how this training went and how well the police perform,” Votel said.
Security cooperation continues among the Afghans, Pakistanis and ISAF in the border region.
“In March, we will open our first border cooperation center, which will be a jointly manned facility … designed to improve our cooperation and coordination along the border,” Votel said.
District and provincial governments are starting to take responsibility for limiting insurgent activities in their areas, he said.
“We’ve had several locations here where the district and provincial councils have stood up to the insurgents and indicated they will no longer tolerate their presence,” Votel said.
Provincial governments also are taking the lead in development projects. New bridges, roads and clinics are among projects going forward. “We are starting to see progress in some of our more troubled districts here with tribal elders and businessmen coming forward to recognize the progress that is being made,” the general said.
In addition, Afghan ministries and the coalition are working together to provide health care. Votel said the program has brought health care to thousands and is “hugely popular” throughout the command area.
“We will soon be joined here by a provincial reconstruction team from the Czech Republic,” Votel said. “They are going to be another member of our very progressive group of forces that includes not only the United States, but Poland, Turkey, New Zealand, French and Egyptian forces.”
However, Afghanistan still presents large challenges. “Capacity building with the Afghan National Police is a concern,” he said. “The continuing corruption problem is something we address on a regular basis.”
The command is seeing links between narcotics and insurgents. “That’s a challenge that has to be addressed,” Votel said.
Controlling the border with Pakistan is going to be a long-term problem, in part because the Border Police are the least trained of Afghanistan’s security services, Votel said.
“Finally, while we’ve made progress in power and agriculture, there is a long way to go there,” he said. The Afghan government needs to develop more power-generating capability and needs to invest in infrastructure to get crops from the fields to the market.