All aspects of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have contributed to significant progress over the past six months, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces said here today.
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has arrested the momentum of the Taliban in many areas of the country, and has reversed it in some regions.
"The progress is fragile," Petraeus said to reporters traveling with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It has to be solidified. It has to be built on."
The combined application of all elements of a comprehensive civil-military approach has delivered the progress, the general said. Though attention has focused on special operations forces launching attacks on Taliban or Haqqani network targets, he added, that's only part of the picture.
"Kinetic aspects are very, very important, but they are not sufficient," the general said. Though targeted kinetic operations are necessary to build the foundation for security in a nation, he explained, no one can provide security solely through these types of operations.
Petraeus cited Zhari and Panjswai districts in Kandahar province as examples. The Taliban's top leader is from the area, and the area west of Kandahar's provincial capital has served as the logistics hub for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Taliban operatives in the area served as communicators, bomb-makers, maintainers, and even as rudimentary doctors, he said.
"You don't take that away with targeted operations," the general said. "Zhari and Panjswai were the most important safe haven the Taliban had."
The military started in the area with shaping operations prior to the July 2010 entrance of the 101st Airborne Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. The unit fought very tough combat against Taliban holdouts in Zhari and Panjswai. Then the soldiers began pushing the enemy back from their safe havens. Some of that action is kinetic and involves special operations forces, while other operations involve conventional forces partnered with Afghan soldiers or police, Petraeus explained.
Training the Afghan forces also is an important part of the strategy, Petraeus noted. The coalition countries agreed at NATO's summit in Lisbon, Portugal, to transition security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014. Afghanistan's security forces have 70,000 more members now than they had a year ago, the general said, and now feature special forces, commandos and civil order police.
Security in some areas now is in the hands of community members through a growing Afghan Local Police program, Petraeus added. He called the program a "much more structured version" of the "Sons of Iraq," a neighborhood-watch type of local security program used during the war in Iraq. The program in Afghanistan is overseen by the nation's interior ministry, which pays the participants, and the local security groups are supervised by their district chiefs of police.
Once a security foundation exists, Petraeus said, then the government can be built.
"This proves [to the Afghan people] that there is a better future by throwing one's lot in with the Afghan government rather than staying with the Taliban," the general said.
The State Department, Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Commerce Department and any number of other U.S. government agencies can help the Afghan government begin to provide basic services to key area and former Taliban strongholds, the general said.
By Jim Garamone