General Reports Fragile Progress in Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 14, 2011 Less than a month after returning from a one-year deployment to Afghanistan as commander of Joint Task Force 101 and Regional Command East, Army Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell reported continuing progress on multiple fronts, but said more time is needed to ensure it will stick.
Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., told Pritzker Military Library President and CEO Ed Tracy at the Chicago library today he’s proud of the security successes his soldiers helped promote by pursuing insurgents and helping to build the Afghan national security forces.
“The Afghan army, the Afghan police, the Afghan border police continue to grow in their capacity and their capability,” he said.
Much of the task force’s work took place at the district level, where the soldiers focused on building additional capability within the police force and promoting leadership and professionalism among Afghan soldiers.
Campbell cited other forward momentum during the past year in promoting governance, development and economic opportunity within Regional Command East. He cited unprecedented coordination with more than 150 civilian professionals there from the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the State and Agriculture departments.
Task Force 101 “made progress every single day,” Campbell said, while acknowledging, “some days we took two steps forward and one step back.”
Campbell emphasized the importance of the coalition’s relationship with Pakistan, noting that he visited Pakistan five times during the deployment and brought Pakistan representatives to his headquarters several times.
“You can’t talk about Afghanistan without including Pakistan in the equation,” he said.
Strain between the United States and Pakistan over issues such as drones and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden haven’t hampered cooperation on the ground, he reported. “At the tactical and operational level, the relationships that we had continued to get better and better,” he said.
With the final surge forces arriving in Afghanistan in August, Campbell said more time is needed to build on the counterinsurgency efforts under way and to ensure the progress being made will stick.
The general acknowledged the challenges his task force faced carrying out the mission in a region that stretches 43,000 square miles and includes 450 miles of border with Pakistan. “We had to prioritize,” he said. “We couldn’t be everywhere all the time.”
In addition to extensive distances, troops in Afghanistan face additional challenges: insurgent movements and attacks across the border from Pakistan, demanding terrain and weather conditions, and cultural differences, among them.
Another challenge -– one Campbell said remains troubling -- is the threat of enemy troops being able to infiltrate Afghan security forces and launch attacks on coalition and Afghan forces.
This mix of challenging conditions created an environment “exponentially harder than what I faced in Baghdad,” he said, referring to his deployment to Iraq as commanding general for maneuver for the 1st Cavalry Division and 4th Infantry Division.
Campbell expressed pride in his soldiers’ dogged determination to succeed in Afghanistan and in their ability to forge and deepen relationships with the Afghan people.
Going into the deployment, Campbell said he knew that more coalition and Afghan troops on the ground would mean more enemy attacks against them. Yet while the number of attacks did increase, he reported that their effectiveness went down.
But “it was a very, very tough time,” he said, with the 101st losing 133 soldiers, the most for the unit in any single deployment since the Vietnam War.
“Every single soldier is a tragic loss,” he said, pulling out a large stack of cards, each one with the name, photo and unit affiliation of a soldier killed, along with family background and circumstances of the death.
“I carried these cards everywhere I went, in the back of my rucksack,” he said. “I did it as a way so I would never ever forget the great sacrifice on the part of these soldiers and their families,” and to be able to show them to others so they, too, would remember.
Six additional 101st soldiers were killed since the general returned to Fort Campbell in late May.