Breedlove Encourages ‘Big-Picture’ Focus on Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 24, 2013 Media coverage focused on violence and other challenges in Afghanistan loses sight of the larger picture of progress and promising developments, Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove said after returning from his first trip there as supreme allied commander for Europe.
Breedlove noted in his “From the Cockpit” blog posted today on the U.S. European Command website how impressed he was with the commitment and professionalism of both the International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan troops he met.
“The work they do and the sacrifices they make every day are astonishing,” he said. “Given the challenges in Afghanistan, the progress that ISAF and their Afghan partners continue to make is monumental.”
Unfortunately, that progress isn’t widely reflected in much of the media coverage of Afghanistan, he said. Coverage that concentrates on the negatives, gives an incomplete depiction of events on the ground, making it easy to “miss the forest for the trees,” he said.
“It is understandable that some who focus on these incidents can come away uncertain whether the efforts and sacrifices made over the past 12 years have been worthwhile,” he said. “To these people, I would suggest they take a step back and take a look at the larger picture before making a judgment about the current and future state of affairs in Afghanistan.”
Breedlove recognized major changes more than a decade ago, when the Afghan people’s lives were dictated by the Taliban government and the country served as a breeding ground for international terrorism.
“Today, the Taliban remains a threat, but it continues to be degraded thanks to the relentless pressure put on them by the Afghan security forces,” Breedlove said. “This capability ensures that Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists.”
ISAF has played a definitive role in changing that, he recognized. By battling extremist organizations, it created the space and time for Afghan national security forces to grow and take on the fight.
“It has helped the Afghan government to crawl out from Taliban control and stand freely on its own two feet,” Breedlove said.
Today, Afghanistan is being progressively built, secured and maintained by the Afghan people, he said.
“NATO and ISAF have served as a scaffolding of sorts, which has enabled Afghans to rebuild their structures,” he said. “But as those structures near completion, the scaffolding is being carefully removed, leaving the finished product to stand freely.”
Big milestones are ahead as Afghan security forces prepare in the coming weeks to take the security lead across the country. They currently plan, lead, and implement over 87 percent of security missions throughout Afghanistan, providing security for nearly 90 percent of the population, Breedlove noted.
Breedlove said other fundamental changes that have taken place across Afghanistan in the last 10 years, but are not often reflected in front-page news: education, health care, transportation and communication improvements, a GDP growing at 7 percent a year, among them.
While noting progress, the general recognized stumbling blocks along the way and said more work will be needed in the coming months.
But “Afghanistan is worth the cost,” Breedlove said, echoing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
The United States and NATO have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan, and recognize that the security of their nations is inextricably linked to the stability of other regions, he said.
But their enduring commitment in Afghanistan, he added, also is based on the sweat and sacrifices ISAF and Afghan national security forces have given the people of Afghanistan.
The general said the Afghan people have “the opportunity to build on progress already made and to secure their future.”
“It is now within their grasp and soon will be fully in their hands,” Breedlove said.
He emphasized, however, that the completion of the ISAF mission at the end of 2014 won’t signal an end to the NATO and international commitment to Afghans’ security. “Resolute Support,” NATO’s post-2014 mission in Afghanistan, will focus on the training, advising and assisting of Afghan security forces.
“Of course there will be more challenges, but our support for Afghan security remains steadfast and will remain so through 2014 and beyond,” Breedlove said.