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Afghan Army’s Growth Important to Progress, Marine Officer Says

By Kristen Noel
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2008 – Continuing to build the capacity and the strength of the Afghan National Army is strategically important to progress in Afghanistan and eliminating the insurgency’s influence over the population, an official there said yesterday.

If the Afghan army can provide security on its own, it would help to remove the relationship between the insurgents and the populations they still influence, Marine Corps Col. Jeffrey Haynes, commander of Regional Corps Advisory Command Central, said in a teleconference with bloggers.

“As we continue to drive the wedge between the population and the insurgents, it will be harder and harder for [the insurgency] to operate,” Haynes said. “That’s one reason I continue to emphasize the Afghan National Army owning the problem and owning the battle space and being seen by the people … as being able to deliver security.”

The Regional Corps Advisory Command Central – a multinational, joint-service command with about 750 members – trains and conducts combat operations with the Afghan National Army’s 201st Corps, Haynes said. Their area of operation encompasses 11 provinces in and around Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, he said.

The Afghans are leading combat operations in areas surrounding Kabul. “We’ve got [Afghan soldiers] doing tremendous work out there,” he said, “not having their hand held by the coalition in any means whatsoever.”

A belief that insurgents have surrounded and are entangling the capital city are a myth, Haynes said. Though “they are having some hits every now and then around the capital,” he said, those attacks are attempts by insurgents to create the false impression that they have surrounded Kabul.

Haynes also said that the insurgents are not strong fighters.

“You’re not talking about really proficient fighters,” he said. “You’re just talking about guys that occasionally are tucked in with the civilian population and may get the drop on our folks.”

In addition to security, Haynes said, the advisory command and the Afghan Army 201st Corps recently started a provincial reconstruction team to improve quality of life for local citizens. The reconstruction team already has met several times, he said, and is beginning to manage some development projects.

Understanding development and giving the people reason for hope is a key element in the counterinsurgency effort, Haynes said.

“Prosperity, employment, and of course security is the key to counterinsurgency,” he said. “You know, it’s a competition for the population.”

(Kristen Noel works for the New Media branch of the Defense Media Activity.)

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