Pace Outlines Progress in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 29, 2006 The top U.S. general yesterday told the Afghan people they have made huge strides and that Afghan forces are now helping protect the country.
In a news conference here, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke on several issues affecting Afghanistan.
“Last night I had the privilege of having dinner with General Bismullah Khan (chief of the general staff of the Afghan National Army) and with several of his staff and several of the deputy ministers of the Ministry of Defense,” he said. “I found that setting to be very encouraging, because the men around that table come from very different backgrounds.
“About five years ago they were fighting each other, and last night they were sitting around the table working closely together in furtherance of President (Hamid) Karzai’s aims for governance of this country,” he added.
Pace said Taliban extremists are trying to intimidate sections of Afghanistan, most notably in the country’s south. “The Taliban understand that the Afghan people voted: They voted for a president; they voted for a constitution; they voted for a parliament,” he said. “Every day that the Afghan people live in freedom and get stronger as a nation is a bad day for the Taliban.”
The Taliban can create local problems for the Afghan government and coalition forces but can do little more, Pace said. “The Afghan people have already voted for freedom. And as long as the Afghan people have voted for freedom, there is no way the Taliban can become a strategic problem,” he said.
NATO forces moving into the nation will assume responsibility for security in the entire nation by the end of this year, Pace said. But he cautioned that it would be a mistake for Afghans to think solely of NATO and coalition forces when considering security issues in their country. The Afghan National Army is growing larger and becoming more capable each day, Pace said said. The police, while progressing more slowly, also are making progress.
During his July 26-28 visit to the region, Pace visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan and met with Afghan and Pakistani leaders. This was his second trip to Afghanistan as chairman.
“This afternoon I visited with our U.S. troops in Bagram and (Forward Operating Base) Salerno and was able to see the pride in their eyes of working side-by-side with the Afghan army,” Pace said at yesterday’s news conference. “I came to thank my troops for what they are doing for my country and yours, but I was very pleased to hear the true respect they have for the courage and professionalism of the Afghan army.”
Just before the press conference, Pace met with Karzai. “It was my pleasure to pass along President Bush’s words of respect and appreciation for President Karzai’s leadership,” he said. “I also had the opportunity to … reaffirm with President Karzai that the United States is in this for the long term, that we are enduring friends, and that we will stand side-by-side with Afghanistan.”