Joint Chiefs Chairman Notes Improvement in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Aug. 12, 2004 Each time he goes to Afghanistan, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here Aug. 11, conditions in the country seem better than during his previous visit.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said this time he was impressed with the volume of truck traffic on the road between the capital of Kabul and Jalalabad. He said he took the traffic as a sign that the economy is picking up and construction is proceeding.
Myers visited Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. He spoke with reporters after his visit.
"In Kabul, everything is better than it was the last time I was there," he said. More stores are open, more construction is going on in the city, and there is more activity in the streets. Six civilian airlines now fly into Kabul, with Air India about to start service.
While in the country, Myers met with members of the Jalalabad provincial reconstruction team, U. N. representatives helping the Afghans with their upcoming presidential election, and with Afghan leaders.
The general said security also is improving in the country. "Securitywise, the al Qaeda threat is virtually nonexistent in the country," he said. Rather, he explained, the threat to Afghanistan's elections comes from the remnants of the Taliban. "They will try to disrupt the process," he said. "There is some reporting that says a lot of the Taliban are on the fence, and if they can be convinced that they have a role in the political process that they may choose that as opposed to violence. But that remains to be seen."
He said that even if many join in building a new Afghanistan, "there are plenty of Taliban left who would wreak havoc with the election and try to stop it."
He said the Taliban will use terror as a weapon and said coalition forces are working with the Afghan government to stop violence. "We've got three brigades' capability in there that's one more brigade than we had coming out of the winter," he said.
An extra U.S. brigade was put into the country for the springtime offensives and the elections, he said. Spain and Italy are both sending battalions to support the election process. "Our forces will shift their emphasis to election security as we get closer to the date to make sure people get to the polls and not be disrupted," he said.
Myers came away from his meetings with U.N. representatives encouraged by their confidence, he said. "They are absolutely convinced that they can pull this off, that the elections will be free and fair, and they can do this," he said. "(The elections) won't be perfect, but no election in the world is perfect."
U.N. officials told Myers they expect to register 9.8 million voters by the time registration stops.
Rumsfeld and Myers met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Faheem Khan. The conversation was on security-sector reform. Karzai dropped Khan from the presidential ticket in October, but the defense chief "is worried about what he should be worried about as minister of defense," Myers said.