Poignant Reminder at the American Embassy in Kabul
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, Apr. 16, 2004 The 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) has left a reminder to the Americans working here why what they do is so important.
On a plaque next to the flagpole in front of the U.S. Embassy here is written:
"In honor of the victims of 11 September 2001 The men and women who have given their lives in the War against Terrorism, and, The Enduring Freedom that will survive."
Members of the unit spearheaded the liberation of Kabul from the Taliban. On Dec. 2, 2001, soon after occupying the grounds of the embassy, the Green Berets buried a piece of the World Trade Center at the flagpole.
The war on terrorism continues, and Afghanistan is one area where that war is being won. Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers visited Afghanistan as part of a trip to the U.S. Central Command area of operations. The chairman visited leaders of Bahrain and Kuwait and troops and commanders in Iraq before coming here.
Myers is gathering information he'll use to advise the president and the defense secretary. He said he finds it useful to visit the areas where U.S. troops are involved to get a feel for the command climate.
Following meetings with Combined Forces Command Afghanistan chief Army Lt. Gen. David Barno and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, Myers said that he was encouraged by the signs of progress since his last visit in December. The chairman said earlier that each time he comes to Afghanistan he sees more stores open, more traffic on the streets, more people out and about.
He told reporters at the Kabul airport that the United States remains committed to rebuilding Afghanistan and defeating terrorists. There are now roughly 15,000 U.S. military personnel in the country now, although 2,000 members of the 10th Mountain Division are getting ready to depart soon. Those troops are joined by 1,800 members of coalition nations and 6,500 members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The American force contains Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy personnel. Just over 2,000 Marines just arrived in the country. The 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division from Hawaii has replaced members of the 10th Mountain Division, who will return to Fort Drum, N.Y.
Myers said the Afghan National Army is doing very well. It responds to the national government, and the people see it as a protection rather than a threat. This is a step forward in a land plagued by 30 years of factional unrest, occupation by the Soviet Union and a civil war. "It mirrors a greater shift in the attitude of the people of Afghanistan: People can finally see past the Taliban and see that there is a future in Afghanistan," said a senior Joint Staff official traveling with the chairman.
With elections coming in September, American forces have ramped up their presence in the country. "We're anticipating the elections and trying to ensure no violence as (Afghanistan) heads towards elections," Myers said. "(U.S. presence" is a little stronger and beefier than we've been."
The Afghan National Army is pulling more and more weight as more soldiers are trained. There are currently about 9,600 ANA soldiers , with 7,000 trained and operational. They are doing as great job, said Myers. A thousand ANA soldiers went to Herat in the western part of the country last week to quell violence, he said. They were successful. Part of that, the chairman said, is because they are connected to and represent the national government. "They know where to salute," the chairman said.
He said the troops levels in Iraq will not affect the troop levels for Afghanistan.
Finally, Myers said he was very pleased with the cooperation the coalition has received from Pakistan. The government has launched troops into the tribal areas of the country areas where Taliban remnants and al Qaeda fighters are hiding. Both countries working the border will give the Taliban or al Qaeda no rest, he said.