FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2008
Release Number 20081712-01
CSTC-A commanding general reflects on Afghan tour
KABUL, Afghanistan – “The best people to defend Afghanistan are the Afghans,” said Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, Combined Security Transition Command–Afghanistan commanding general. Cone wrapped up his tour Thursday at a change of command ceremony in front of leaders from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
Cone’s legacy will long be remembered by those leaders. His legacy will be found in the greatly improved professionalism and combat abilities of the Afghan National Army, and the powerful reform program he launched for the Afghan National Police.
Cone, a native of Manchester, N.H., arrived in Kabul in June 2007. He said one of his biggest accomplishments during his 18-month tenure was the growth of the Afghan National Army. CSTC-A soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and civilian personnel assisted the ANA in expanding its force by 26,000 soldiers in the last year, tripling the growth rate of previous years.
“There is little doubt that the ANA is widely recognized as a success story in a land that recently has not known many,” Cone said. “This year we’re planning to expand the Afghan National Army by another 28,000 soldiers and are on track with fielding up-armored Humvees and NATO weapons to replace light tactical vehicles and Warsaw Pact weapons.”
Cone is also responsible for initiating a program to train Afghanistan’s National Police. Cone inherited a police force generally considered ineffective and rife with corruption. But just in the last year, Cone and his command trained 22,000 police – over a quarter of the force. The cornerstone of Cone’s police reform and retraining program is called Focused District Development. The mission is vastly under-resourced, he noted, and added that “We’re very pleased with our progress, but we have more to do.”
When asked what he thinks is the most important thing he has learned here, the West Point graduate said he has learned to respect the spirit and strength of the people of Afghanistan.
“They are a patriotic people who have endured one invasion after another, who always rise from the mountains and deserts to defend their country against those who would tear it apart,” he said. “They will not fail in their fight against this insurgency, and we will not fail them.
“We cannot violate the collective trust we have earned over the last seven years. Afghans trust us to act in their best interest and not our own. They trust that we will deliver on our promises. We at CSTC-A must continue to earn this trust by developing personal relationships, understanding the issues they face, and delivering with effective solutions,” Cone said.
In turn, Cone has earned the respect of Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan Minister of Defense.
At a recent ceremony at CSTC-A headquarters in Kabul, Wardak conveyed his gratitude to the general and the command.
“With a strong conviction I can say that no command in the U.S. armed forces or the international forces has so lasting, so far-reaching and so enduring effects and impact on the peace, security, stability and future prosperity of this country as CSTC-A,” Wardak said. “General Robert W. Cone has made himself a permanent part of the history of the development of the Afghan National Security Forces, and he will always be remembered.”
Cone said his experience in Afghanistan was the most rewarding of his career and that he never anticipated the level of friendship and personal enjoyment working with the Afghans.
“Through three dark decades of war, Afghans have maintained their unique culture of generosity, hospitality, and unflagging optimism. Their strength is remarkable and their resilience admirable,” said Cone. “I can tell you that whenever I need my spirits lifted, I sit down and talk with my Afghan friends. I listen to them tell me their vision for the future of this great country, and I am inspired.”
Cone says that his next assignment is yet to be determined, but that he plans to spend time with his family in Wisconsin and New Hampshire.