Military Leaders See Mixed Results In Afghanistan

March 4th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Military Leaders See Mixed Results In Afghanistan

March 3, 2008
Morning Edition (NPR), 11:00 AM
RENEE MONTAGNE: And there's growing worry about the future of Afghanistan, one reason we're bringing you stories all this week, tracking what is sometimes called the other war. We'll get the view from the ground and look at NATO's role, Karzai's government, and efforts to train Afghan forces. Some six years after they were driven from power, Taliban fighters controlled big chunks of territory now, mostly in the south, though they're newly visible around Kabal. Some recent studies warn Afghanistan is once again in danger of becoming a failed state. We begin today with a conversation with US generals on what they see as a bright spot: the American-led counterinsurgency in the eastern part of Afghanistan.
NPR's Tom Bowman reports.
TOM BOWMAN: More than 12,000 American troops are spread over a dozen Afghan provinces, hard against the border with Pakistan in what is known as Regional Command East. It's one of the few parts of Afghanistan where things seem to be improving. That's what Defense Secretary Robert Gates
DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES: January was the first month to the eastern region of Afghanistan. It was the first month in two years where the level of violence was actually less than it was two years ago. It's our area of responsibility, and the counterinsurgency's going very well there.
Besides a large number of U.S. troops, tens of millions of American dollars are being poured into this region. That's giving the people of eastern Afghanistan more basic services. And at the same time, local councils are slowly taking over more responsibility for governing.
Major General DAVID RODRIGUEZ (Commander, Multi-National Division-Northwest, Operation Iraqi Freedom): The Afghan citizens are noticing these improvements.
BOWMAN: Major General David Rodriguez is the commander there. He told reporters at the Pentagon that recent surveys show a sense among the population that better days are ahead.
RODRIGUEZ: And half the population expresses satisfaction with the ability of medical care, drinking water and education, which were all very, very low before.
BOWMAN: That's not to say all is well in eastern Afghanistan. There are kidnappings, nests of Taliban fighters. Many Afghans still fear to even drive through this region to reach the city of Kandahar in the south.
But General Dan McNeill, the top commander of the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, says this eastern region is farther along than the southern part of Afghanistan, where Canadian troops are in the lead and attacks are on the rise.
General DAN McNEILL (Commander, United States Army Forces Command): That's not a derisive comment about anybody or anything, certainly not members of the alliance. It's just that clearly the U.S. has put the effort into making this piece of it right, and the counterinsurgency there. The term used by many NATO allies is we got to be more comprehensive.
BOWMAN: Comprehensive begins with longer tours. Americans serve 15 months on the ground, compared to six months for most other NATO troops. That longer time allows the Americans to build closer ties with the locals.
American troops also have more training in counterinsurgency, McNeill says. That means not only how to shoot, but how to rebuild, work with local officials. And American forces are flush with money for reconstruction.
There's a need for more allied troops in the south, but not in the east, says General Rodriguez.
RODRIGUEZ: We got enough troops for what we need to do, and the Afghan troops is what we need more of, and they're coming more all the time.
BOWMAN: One British military officer says American troops are farther along because they've been working in Afghanistan now for more than six years. NATO came on board less than two years ago. It will take training and time - years perhaps, he says - before Canada, Britain and other alliance forces can make a difference in the south, like the Americans have made in the east.
Retired Marine General Jim Jones stepped down as Supreme Commander of NATO just over a year ago. He agrees the allies took over a dangerous area.
General JIM JONES (Retired; Former Head of NATO Forces): What happened was when NATO went south, they went into an area that had never really had any kind of permanent military force and was really quietly in the hands of the bad guys, including drug traffickers, criminals and insurgents.
BOWMAN: Defense Secretary Gates says the immediate problem now is the need for more troops in the south. He's been pressing NATO to send more. The alliance has largely refused, so Gates has ordered 3,200 Marines to the country this spring, most of them to the south.
GATES: The way to deal with that long-term, clearly, is the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police to be able to hold while economic development and provide local security. So it has to be a partnership between ourselves and the Afghans, with more and more of the effort gradually shifting to the Afghans.
BOWMAN: But that partnership is shaky. The national police force won't be at full strength until sometime in 2009, a year later than expected. That's because of a lack of trainers. At the same time, President Hamid Karzai has opposed the appointment of an international envoy to coordinate aid - a critical position to help turn the country around.
Now, says Retired General Jones, Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a failed state. Besides international support, he says, much more needs to be done by local leaders: governors, police chiefs, top ministers who have to get out of the capital and around the country.
JONES: That government has got to do more than simply live in the palace in Kabul. They've got to get out there and be seen and felt and, you know, stimulate the enthusiasm of the people.
BOWMAN: A military officer like General Rodriguez can provide security, build roads, schools and clinics, says Jones. Real change can only come from the Afghans themselves.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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