Petraeus: Forces in Afghanistan Continue to Push Enemy
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan, Dec. 7, 2010 Afghan and coalition forces are continuing to make and solidify gains while pushing out the enemy and retaining control of key districts in hotly contested provinces, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan said here today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus spoke with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who arrived in Afghanistan today to visit with troops and meet with senior officials.
Significant gains have taken place in former Taliban strongholds over the last several months, including in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the spiritual home of the Taliban, as well as other areas of Kandahar province, Petraeus said.
“Our troopers have achieved some important gains in the districts to the west and northwest of Kandahar particularly,” he said. “The Zhari and Panjwaye districts have been cleared, and they are now in the process of transitioning into the ‘hold’ phase, though there is still some small clearance going on.” Afghan forces, he noted, now outnumber coalition forces in those districts.
The area essentially is the hometown of supreme Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Petraeus pointed out.
“It’s an area that was a safe haven for the Taliban for some five years, really -– since about 2005 or so, when the resurgence of the Taliban really started to gather momentum,” he said.
Hard work also has gone into solidifying gains in central Helmand province and continuing to push out from there, Petraeus said, while still retaining the six central districts that have been cleared and are being held.
“While the enemy certainly does not like the fact that our forces and now, increasingly, Afghan forces control the bulk of Marja district, for example, … the enemy does fight and try to take these back and try to cause problems,” Petraeus said. “And we are determined to not only solidify the gains, but indeed to build on them.
“And of course, gradually, local governance, local economic development and so forth are taking hold,” he continued, “and increasingly, Afghan security forces are securing the more populated areas and allowing joint Afghan and ISAF forces to push out further and further.” Over time, Petraeus said, the idea is to link up the “security bubbles” to form a continuous zone of security.
In the past, Petraeus said, enemy fighters have sought safe haven in sparsely populated areas when they’ve felt pressure. Though special operations forces are working in those areas, a new program in which local residents take responsibility for their community’s security is gaining momentum.
Known as the Afghan Local Police program, local-resident security is now established in 13 communities, with four more nearing operational status. Plans call for the program to grow to more than 60 communities, the general said. The people providing security are under the auspices of Afghanistan’s interior ministry, he explained, and are under the operational control of district police chiefs.
“These are not warlord militias,” Petraeus said.
Agreement by heads of state and government at NATO’s recent summit in Lisbon, Portugal, to transition security responsibility throughout Afghanistan to Afghan control by the end of 2014 is an important commitment, the general said.
The original initiative for that transition came from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Petraeus said, noting this demonstrates to the Afghan population that the alliance will not turn its back on Afghanistan.
“It obviously represents, in their view, a sustained, substantial commitment, which is the type that they know is required to achieve that very important objective,” he said.