General Notes 'Significant' Progress in Afghanistan
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2006 Afghanistan has come a long way toward peace and stability since Operation Enduring Freedom began four and a half years ago, the commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan said here today.
"Viewed from the baseline of October 2001, the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, progress made in Afghanistan to date is significant," U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry said during a Pentagon news conference.
The growing and improving Afghan national security forces and ongoing reconstruction projects across the country are concrete evidence of progress, he said.
The general said the international community must remain committed to Afghanistan in order to keep it on its current upward trajectory.
"The international community must remain patient and maintain uncompromising commitment to Afghanistan's success if we are to prevail," he said. "Today, that commitment is demonstrated by the growing role of NATO and its 26 member nations in Afghanistan."
This summer, NATO's command in Afghanistan, known as the NATO International Security Assistance Force, will expand its area of operation from northern and western Afghanistan to the southern portion of the country.
"It is anticipated thereafter NATO will resume responsibly for all of Afghanistan," Eikenberry said. "But it is important to remember the United States, as a NATO member, will remain the single largest contributor of troops and capability as the NATO ISAF mission expands."
The U.S. military will maintain counterterrorism forces ready to strike al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in Afghanistan. U.S. forces will continue to play a central role in training and equipping Afghan security forces, he said, as well as continuing current reconstruction projects.
"I'd tell you that the campaign against al Qaeda goes on in an unrelenting way, in a very focused way, by our forces in Afghanistan and by the other elements of the United States government that are partnered in that endeavor," he said. "We've made very good progress, I think, over the course of the past year in continuing to strike the network of al Qaeda wherever we find it."
Eikenberry said in addition to the transition from a U.S.-led coalition to a NATO-led coalition, Afghanistan's continued development will be marked by three other transitions.
One transition element will be an increased emphasis on nonmilitary efforts by Afghanistan and the international community.
"In essence, these efforts aim to rebuild Afghanistan's middle ground -- that is, the civil society of Afghanistan, ravaged by three decades of warfare and terrorism," he said. "Throughout Afghanistan's 34 provinces, rebuilding the middle ground remains the primary concern of the Afghan people."
Afghans and the international community must work together to improve governance, infrastructure, social services and rule of law in Afghanistan, the general said. "A recent poll of Afghans showed that that 80 percent see economic reconstruction, not security, as their No. 1 need," he said.
Another transition component is the expanding Afghan forces, which will enable the Afghan government to take the lead in all aspects of the Afghan state. "The growth and size of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police is one of the most visible and important aspects of this transition," he said.
He said the Afghan army and police are expanding their reach and capability within the country. "Over time, they will increasingly play the major role in ensuring the stability of their nation," he said.
The final transition step will be to develop cooperative approaches among the U. S., Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight international terrorism, since a common enemy threatens all three nations, he said. "We aim to expand information sharing, communications and personal interactions at all levels of command," he said.
The general said it's important to note that tomorrow will mark the final day of Exercise Inspired Gambit, a military training exercise that for the first time involves combined elements of U.S., Pakistani and Afghan armed forces.
Eikenberry stressed that even though Afghanistan has made a lot of progress over the past few years, obstacles to its stability and prosperity still remain, including narcotics trafficking and related government corruption.
"However, we should not be daunted by these challenges. Instead, we should take stock in the tremendous progress that Afghanistan and the international community have made to date, and apply that same commitment to the difficulties that lay ahead," he said.