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Northern Afghanistan Sees Security, Governance Progress

By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 – Military operations in four northern Afghanistan provinces are yielding progress in security and training programs, and in the kind of development that links people and their government, the 1st Brigade Combat Team commander said today.

In a live digital video conference from Camp Mike Spann in Mazar-e Sharif, Army Col. Willard Burleson updated reporters on the work his brigade, a component of the 10th Mountain Division, is doing in Regional Command-North.

“Recent Afghan-led operations with [the U.N.-led International Security Assistance Force] in Kunduz and Baghlan have allowed the Afghan security forces and the government of Afghanistan to expand into areas where insurgents previously had operated freely,” Burleson said.

These operations, he added, “have enabled the expansion of government services to now-safe havens and improved the population's sentiment toward its government.”

Burleson’s 3,500-soldier brigade deployed throughout Afghanistan in March and April.

One battalion task force is headquartered in Kabul, working as part of the NATO training mission, and the cavalry squadron is in Kandahar’s Dand district, he said. But most of the brigade is in Regional Command-North, operating mainly in the northern provinces of Faryab, Balkh, Kunduz and Baghlan.

Their mission is to partner with the Afghan National Security Forces there, specifically the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Border Police.

“As we conduct comprehensive operations -- that's security, governance and development -- with the Afghan security forces,” Burleson said, “we seek to neutralize the insurgency in these key-terrain and area-of-interest districts.”

Brigade members also help the Afghan Border Police in partnered operations at the Hairatan and Sher Khan border-crossing points, Burleson said.

“We were really the first sizable American force to operate in this area, to assist in areas where there have been security issues. And there still are but I think they're getting better,” Burleson said.

Two months ago, he added, Afghan forces planned, led and executed– an operation in Takhar province near the border with Tajikistan. An insurgent threat in that remote location had been largely untouched.

“The police zone commander here at the 303rd Police coordinated it with the border zone commander and then with a little bit of the army,” Burleson said, “and they conducted the operation themselves” with some help from ISAF enablers and close-air support.

“But they planned and conducted the operation,” Burleson said. “That says a lot about the internal security forces being able to solve problems themselves.”

Another successful effort involves the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program sponsored by the government of Afghanistan, he said.

The program extends a hand to combatant groups, offering them full rights as Afghan citizens and a dignified way to renounce violence and reintegrate themselves into local communities.

“To date we've seen approximately 100 former insurgents reintegrate up here, with another couple-hundred at varying steps in the process,” Burleson said.

“These initial reintegration numbers,” he said, “are an indicator of the willingness of some of our former fighters to become decent members of the society who support the Afghan government.”

Much of the reintegration -- as with nearly all progress in Afghanistan, where establishing relationships is a critical cultural imperative -- is based on good relationships, Burleson said.

Speeding integration depends on relationships among the security force commanders, the provincial chiefs of police and the provincial governors, he said.

“Police leaders call people they know and say, ‘Look, it’s time to come in, time for the fighting to end,’” the colonel added. “And that’s really how some of this reintegration starts.”

During their time in the region, Burleson said, brigade members have been able to contribute to development efforts that improve the relationship between people and their government.

“Education is paramount in any society, specifically educational facilities for young women, who under the Taliban certainly were denied that opportunity,” he said.

“It's not uncommon now to see large groups of young girls going to and from school on the streets of Mazar-e Sharif, Maimana or Kunduz in this area,” Burleson said, “and I think it's a sign of progress, at least in northern Afghanistan.”

Commander’s Emergency Response Program funds have been employed to replace donkey carts and buses with government-sponsored vehicles to provide Afghan district and deputy governors better access to their populations, he said.

“We've also had projects in Faryab where, under the leadership of the governor and deputy governor, they've provided street lights,” Burleson said.

The increased security in and around communities promotes commerce. Street vendors stay open later and people can shop later in well-lit areas.

“It’s a visible improvement in people’s lives as a result of their government doing things for them,” he said. “A lot of this is connecting the government to the people through their security forces and with the help of the International Security Assistance Force.”

In downtown Mazar-e Sharif in Balkh province, Burleson said, “Governor Atta has security, he’s got development and he’s got a form of effective governance. A place like that sets the example for what different parts of Afghanistan can become.”

A lot of work remains in all those areas, he added.

“But we're seeing progress,” Burleson said. “And I am confident that, in time, the Afghans will be able to take [control] and certainly this increased [NATO-U.S.] presence will not be required.”

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