Taliban, Warlords Losing in Afghanistan, General Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2004 The October elections here were a referendum on the Taliban, "and they lost by eight and a half million votes," the coalition military commander said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, the commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, said during an interview with reporters traveling with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the Oct. 9 presidential election changed the political landscape in Afghanistan, and that coalition troops feel very good about their roles.
"The success of the elections was in great part due to the excellent work the troops are doing," Barno said. "Our troops are very much a part of that success, and they are very fired up about it."
The success of the elections has increased cooperation between Afghans and the coalition. "There is a continuous flow of people telling us where (weapons) caches are and who the Taliban are," Barno said.
The Taliban is splintering, Barno said, and Mullah Omar, the group's leader, will have a tough time keeping his followers. "(The Taliban) took a significant beating from the Afghan people; their threats were ineffective in preventing the Afghan people from registering and coming out to vote," Barno said. "I think there is a great deal of angst within the organization to determine what the next step should be."
For the noncriminal portion of the Taliban, the next step will be reconciliation and political involvement, "if they want to be part of the new, more prosperous Afghanistan," Barno said.
The Afghan warlords also are feeling heat. "Even before the elections, it was apparent that there is no future in being a warlord in Afghanistan," Barno said.
As the central government and its Afghan National Army grow, they have been extending into larger areas of the country. Some locations, such as Herat and Mazar-e Sharif, are now firmly under government control. "It is clear throughout the country that the day of the warlord is over," the general said.
But there is another threat to the country -- from narcotics. While the coalition military is not the lead agency in the fight against opium poppies, it will play a large role.
Along with the coalition military is the Afghan National Army. Barno said coalition commanders throughout the country want ANA soldiers attached to them. He said the Afghan soldiers are well-trained and well-led. They now number 16,500 "on the glide slope to 70,000," Barno said. Current planning has the force at that size by late 2007, but DoD is working to accelerate the process.
"Every one of our commanders wants the ANA," Barno said. "They have never lost a combat engagement they have been involved in, and all have now been involved in combat. We're very proud of them."
The army is one of the few institutions that mix ethic groups and tribes. Barno said the army is a great example to the rest of Afghanistan.
New elections for the legislature will be held in the spring. "We'll use a lot of the techniques that we developed in concert with the Afghan National Army and the United Nations to hopefully turn in the same kind of success we saw on the security front that we saw in October," Barno said.
More than 3,000 candidates will compete in the spring election, so it will be more complex to set up, he noted.