Afghanistan More Stable Today Than One Year Ago
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 12, 2003 Coalition forces in Afghanistan have "had a significant impact on the enemy," a military spokesman there said today.
"After almost 24 years of continuous conflict, Afghanistan is more stable today than a year ago by almost any metric one would care to use," said Col. Rodney Davis, public affairs officer for Coalition Joint Task Force 180.
Davis explained during a press conference at Bagram Air Base that "key indicators" numbers of deaths, incidents, firefights and improvised explosive devices are all down. Coalition forces have uncovered "several huge caches of weapons," he added.
"The Taliban is no longer ruling the country, and there have been no major terrorist attacks on America since 9- 11," Davis said, adding, "Hundreds of al Qaeda were killed in fighting."
Other bright points in Afghanistan's security situation include a functioning government, a successful loya jirga, or town council, in June 2002 that "allowed the Afghans at least some measure of democratic expression," and the formation of an Afghan national army.
The situation on the ground is still dangerous for coalition and Afghan forces. An Afghan soldier was killed and an American soldier injured in a firefight that occurred late May 9 into early May 10 local time, a Bagram spokesman said May 10.
A patrol consisting of Afghan troops and U.S. special operations forces was fired on with small arms and rocket- propelled grenades as it was returning from a reconnaissance mission near Khowst. The friendly forces then pursued the attackers, "four to six enemy gunmen," to a nearby compound.
A coalition quick reaction force from Forward Operating Base Chapman responded and helped secure a perimeter. Coalition forces also called in two AH-64 Apache helicopters and two A-10 Thunderbolts.
As the friendly forces approached the compound in the dark, the Afghan soldier was shot from within the compound and killed. After dawn May 10, the coalition and Afghan forces cleared the area, killing two enemy fighters and wounding another. The wounded American was shot in this daylight exchange of fire, the Bagram spokesman said.
The injured soldier was initially treated in country. Davis said today that he had been evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany May 11 for treatment of a leg injury. He released no other details on the soldier's injuries or identity.
The close-air-support aircraft subsequently destroyed the enemy compound, killing the remaining enemy fighter.
"Our lethal operations or combat operations have been very effective, and we will continue, when necessary, to undertake combat operations to meet our objectives in the war on terrorism," Davis said.
Recently, however, he added, coalition forces have shifted their focus from "lethal to nonlethal operations."
Civil-military operations are more and more becoming the focus of coalition forces in Afghanistan. "The Afghan people have suffered for decades under several regimes, and they have been in a state of almost constant warfare," Davis said. "Today we are helping the Afghan people help themselves."
Civil-military operations forces are working to improve roads, schools, water systems and medical care, all of which contribute to stability. Reconstruction leads to the creation of more jobs, "which is essential to Afghanistan's short- and long-term economic prosperity," Davis said.
Provincial reconstruction teams are operating in Gardez, Konduz and Bamian. These joint civil-military teams help the Afghan civil authorities extend their reach outside the capital, Kabul. Davis said the United Kingdom will soon establish a PRT in Mazar-e Sharif, and the Afghan government supports future teams in Heart, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Charika.
Development of the Afghan national army is another bright spot in Afghanistan's future. To date, American and other coalition military forces have trained eight battalions, with the eighth battalion of 715 graduating May 10.
This eighth battalion is the first mechanized Afghan unit. Officials expect 9,000 Afghan soldiers in uniform by the summer of 2004, Davis said.
"Clearly," he said, "the (Afghan national army) is getting closer every day to becoming a multi-ethnic, multicultural, competent and credible army."