Coalition Pursues Dual Missions in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2003 While coalition forces will do their utmost to kill or capture terrorist leaders here, the provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan are the wave of the future, said Army Lt. Gen. David Barno.
Barno, commander of Combined Forces Command, Central Asia, also said operations in Afghanistan have not been limited by the war in Iraq. "We have a robust capability here that continues to do daily work against critical targets Osama bin Laden, Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, Gullbaden Hekmatyar," he said. "Those are very important targets here in the theater, and we have assets going after them on a daily basis."
But provincial reconstruction teams are becoming "pretty close" to the main effort in the country, the general said. Army civil affairs units, augmented by other U.S. and international agencies, man the PRTs. The teams help build security for the area and work with local Afghans on setting up effective police departments and courts. The teams also sponsor medical and veterinary exercises.
"One of the things we all recognize is (that) in many ways that is the road ahead," Barno said. "That is the way we'll achieve enduring security and enduring development in Afghanistan, by proliferating the PRTs."
There are now seven PRTs, with one manned by New Zealanders and another by the British. A third PRT in Kunduz will come under NATO control later this month, Barno said. Plans are afoot to bring the number up to 12 teams by February. Barno emphasized that allies will play a large role in setting up and running the teams, and he said he expects that number will grow as resources permit.
Barno spoke about the challenges of operating in Afghanistan. He said that basically, three groups in the country are opposed to the coalition. On the northeastern border with Pakistan, the primary group is the one led by former warlord Gullbaden Hekmatyar. South of them, but still along the Pakistani border, the main enemy is al Qaeda trained fighters. In the southern part of the country, the main enemy appears to be Taliban forces.
The general said he has seen a wide variety of estimates on the numbers of enemy forces, but he thinks the most realistic guess is that the enemy number "in the hundreds, and that combines fighters and supporters."
The general said he is pleased with the progress of the Afghan National Army. Now numbering 5,500, the force gets immediate recognition everywhere in the country as an extension of the national government, he said. Originally trained by U.S. and French specialists, the ANA now has its own training cadre. He said he expects that by June the force will number about 10,000 and that he expects it to grow by 10,000 a year until it reaches its proposed strength of 75,000.
"The people of Afghanistan see it as their army a professional force that represents the future," Barno said. "It's a powerful force having a powerful effect on the Afghan people."
Barno said the coalition will be in Afghanistan "as long as the Afghan government and people still want us here." He said big jobs remain to be done in the country "in terms of taking down the terrorist leadership and also assisting in the development of Afghanistan."