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Coalition Leader Says Tide Turning in Afghanistan

By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Feb. 20, 2005 – The tide is turning against anti- coalition fighters in Afghanistan, a senior British general serving there said.

Speaking about the progress of ongoing operations in the central Asian country, British Army Maj. Gen. Peter Gilchrist, deputy commanding general of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, said Feb. 19 that there many indicators the coalition's strategy is working and that anti-coalition forces are losing steam. Enemy fighters in Afghanistan include members of the al Qaeda terrorist network, the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin -- or HIG -- terrorist group, remnants of the former Taliban regime and other forces.

When he arrived in Afghanistan three months ago, Gilchrist said, he was reading daily incident reports about attacks on coalition forces. Now, the reports tell a different story, mostly describing caches of weapons and ammunition turned in to coalition forces by Afghan citizens.

"The whole thing seems to me anyway to have shifted significantly, which demonstrates to me that the people are on our side. The people are working very much with us, not that they weren't before, but it's gone another stage further," Gilchrist said. "It has subtly changed. Does that mean you've ruined the insurgency? It doesn't. But you've gone an awful long way toward it."

Humanitarian assistance work by the coalition is one reason why Afghans are increasingly supportive of the coalition and why anti-coalition fighters are losing support, Gilchrist said.

An example of this is the support provided to the Afghan government by the coalition in delivering hundreds of tons of food, medicine and supplies to villages cut off from the rest of the country by recent severe snowstorms. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan has declared a state of emergency in the country following severe snowstorms that created drifts up to 20 feet tall in the mountains and heavy rains that turned roads into impassable mud bogs.

Helping the Afghan people shows them the coalition is trying to help them, Gilchrist said, adding that he was impressed by the way the Afghan government responded to the situation. Afghanistan's central government coordinated efforts between the coalition, international humanitarian relief agencies, the United Nations and other organizations.

"The great thing, the really good bit of news, is that it's been coordinated by the Afghan government and it's been well-organized," Gilchrist said. "Once they realized they had an impending crisis, they've mitigated it. To me, that shows that we're gaining maturity in this government, slowly but certainly."

It is becoming obvious to many insurgents that they will not be successful in their attempts to overthrow the Afghan government, the general said. That is one reason why some anti-coalition fighters may be willing to put down their arms.

"The signs are out there that a resurgence won't probably work," Gilchrist said. "They can carry on the fighting for a fair bit of time, but their chances of winning anything strategic are getting to be pretty small, if not infinitely small."

Though hardcore extremists may not quit fighting unless they are captured or killed, Gilchrist said he thinks many rank-and-file anti-coalition fighters are prepared to stop fighting and adapt to a peaceful way of life. To help them reintegrate into the new Afghan society, the coalition is working to help the Afghan government create and implement a re-integration program for former anti- coalition fighters.

"There are rumors that there are quite a lot of people who want to come back," Gilchrist said, adding that he believes people will turn themselves in to be reintegrated "once we demonstrate that the people who do come back can come in and not be arrested and interfered with, and go back home and start a normal life."

The reintegration program would allow former fighters to register with government authorities. They would then be placed under the supervision of a local elder or chieftain for a probationary period in their local district. The program does not exonerate those responsible for crimes, Gilchrist pointed out.

"It's not an amnesty. There are no preconditions for this. If they have done a war crime and subsequent investigations come along and find that these guys are guilty of war crimes, they will be tried for them," Gilchrist said. "What we will be doing is helping the Afghanistan government to facilitate their return."

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