New Insurgent Tactics in Afghanistan Show Weakness, General Says
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2005 As Afghanistan's security forces grow and the country's political process moves forward, the Taliban has suffered major setbacks and has begun using more roadside and suicide bombs out of desperation, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan said here today.
"If you're on (the Taliban's) side and looking at the trends that are out there right now, the tide of history is moving against you," said Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commanding general of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. "So a shift in tactics is not necessarily a sign of strength. My belief is that a shift in tactics right now is very much a sign of weakness."
At a Pentagon news conference, the general said Afghan security forces, working with coalition forces, are now able to operate in areas they previously couldn't gain access to, such as extremely mountainous areas with a strong Taliban influence. Because they now have access to these areas, there is naturally an increase in fighting, he said, but Afghan and coalition forces, not the Taliban, have initiated more of that fighting.
The Afghan National Army now numbers about 30,000 and is a nationally recognized institution with a nationwide presence, Eikenberry said. Although challenges lay ahead for the army, the progress should not be overlooked, especially because before Sept. 11, 2001, Afghanistan had no national security institutions and no military traditions, he said.
"One of the important effects that they're achieving on the ground is that they are a very respected institution, and their national presence gives the Afghan people tremendous hope and confidence that their nation is coming back together," he said.
Further proof that the country is coming back together is in the political progress made in the last four years, Eikenberry said. The country has gone from two decades of brutal warfare, including the Soviet occupation, civil war and the Taliban regime, to having a constitution, a democratically elected president, a representative national assembly and provincial councils, he said. Roads, wells, schools and clinics are being built around the country, and millions of children are going to school for the first time, he added.
"Clearly there's ample reason to be both proud and to be optimistic," he said.
As progress continues, U.S. and coalition forces still face some challenges, Eikenberry acknowledged.
The first challenge for U.S. and coalition forces is, working alongside the Afghan security forces, to continue the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda, he said. Second, they must continue to build the Afghan security forces, emphasizing quality over quantity, he said. Third, the U.S. must continue to work with the Afghan government and the international community to improve governance and develop the nation's infrastructure, he said.
An important aspect of rebuilding the infrastructure is stopping the production and trafficking of illegal narcotics in Afghanistan, the general noted.
As U.S. forces work with their coalition partners and the Afghan security forces to overcome these challenges, they are preparing to transfer responsibility for Regional Command South to NATO's International Security Assistance Force, Eikenberry said. NATO already is a large contributor to the fight in Afghanistan, and this transfer will mean an expansion of their forces, he said. The U.S. will continue to support the NATO force, he added.
Eikenberry said U.S. officials have no reason to believe Osama bin Laden was killed in the Oct. 8 Pakistan earthquake. It is important for the American people, the international community and the Afghan people to capture bin Laden, so the U.S. will not rest until he is found, Eikenberry said.
But he urged people to look beyond the one terrorist leader. "This is not about one man," he said. "This is about a network; it's about a movement. And we've continued to make progress over the last several years, and we've continued to make progress over this past year in Afghanistan."