Afghans Not Ready for U.S. Troops to Leave
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2005 Though U.S. and coalition troops have been in Afghanistan for nearly four years, the Afghan people do not see them as occupiers, according to the coalition's director of operations there.
Instead, "the Afghan people fear the coalition might leave too soon," Army Col. Cardon Crawford, who has spent the past eight months as director of operations at Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, said today during an interview with the Pentagon Channel.
"What you find from the Afghan people," he said, "is that we are there at the invitation of the Afghan government to stay as long as they would like us to stay. And in the Afghans themselves, I think you find overall their position is, 'Please don't leave us.'"
Crawford acknowledged the country remains dangerous and that coalition troops are unwelcome in certain regions. But, he added, most Afghans are appreciative of the progress being made in their country, especially Afghanistan's first democratic election in which more than 8.5 million Afghans, 40 percent of them women, took part.
Coalition forces also helped train and equip a new Afghan National Army that now has more than 18,000 members, and 29,000 more Afghan citizens are employed as police officers, Crawford noted. Eighty-eight schools have been completed, with 160 more under construction, while 12 new health clinics have been opened, with 182 new facilities under way, he added.
And, Crawford said, nearly 5 million Afghan children are now attending schools nationwide, and 4 million children have been vaccinated against measles and polio. Such progress, Crawford said, leads him to believe the greatest danger in Afghanistan is not the Taliban overthrowing the new central government.
"The biggest threat is that U.S. and coalition forces might leave too soon, prematurely thinking that the job is done," he said.
While the rebuilding effort is going well, Crawford said, the greatest mission for coalition troops is providing and maintaining security and stability, though Afghan army and security forces have been working alongside coalition troops and "are in charge of their security."
"They are the ones taking over the border checkpoints and establishing that central government role," he emphasized. "The Afghans are in charge and we're there to support them."
With coalition support, the Afghan army hopes to increase its strength to 50,000 soldiers by 2007, Crawford said. The army now has 18,000 soldiers and another 3,900 in training.
Crawford said he sees no problem getting volunteers to reach that number and that the coalition is "on target to meet its goal."
Coalition forces are continuing operations to "capture or kill" insurgent holdouts, Crawford said, and still are tracking the whereabouts of al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden and Taliban leaders. That, Crawford said, makes it difficult to predict how long coalition troops will remain in Afghanistan.
But he offered a clearer outlook for Taliban remnants still operating there. "I think that there is a good chance that sometime in the not-too-distant future the Taliban can be defeated in its entirety."
If so, he said, that would be great recognition for coalition troops in Afghanistan, who often have been overshadowed in the media by events in Iraq. He pointed out that troops are serving in Afghanistan because "they feel it's the right thing to do."
"They are doing the job because they see the progress they are making. They are doing the job because of what happened on 9/11," he emphasized. "I can assure you that the soldiers who are out there on the ground, beating the bushes, working those mountains looking for the people that intend to do us harm have not forgotten that, even though time has passed.
"They certainly don't do it for who's in the spotlight," he continued. "They do it for their families, they do it for their children, they do it for their parents. They do it for those people who matter to them, and those are the people of this country."