An ANA soldier trains at Camp Shaheen last month. Leaders agree that the maturation of Afghan forces is a key component to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.
WASHINGTON (May 10, 2010) – Here for Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit this week with President Barack Obama and other high-level administration officials, the top military commander and senior U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan both expressed confidence today that the U.S. strategy being employed there will succeed.
“Seeing clearly the challenges in front of us, I have confidence that our campaign plan will succeed,” Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told reporters in the White House briefing room.
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry expressed similar confidence in progress taking shape. “I’ve got cautious optimism that we’re making progress right now on an array of areas that are critical to our combined success with Afghanistan,” he said.
“We’re having military successes,” he added. “We’re having success in terms of working with the government on a basis of partnership to steadily improve the capacity and accountability of the government. We’re making a great success in trying to come up with ways to make progress in the economy.”
Eikenberry expressed hope that this week’s sessions will reaffirm mutual commitment toward building on this success while addressing challenges yet to be confronted.
“Our two governments will frankly address these challenges in the next few days, with an eye on developing common solutions and with confidence that we have now the necessary resources, the appropriate strategy and the national will to make continued progress,” he said.
The top strategic priority in Afghanistan is development of Afghan national security forces that ultimately will secure the country, McChrystal told reporters. “Much work lies ahead to mature this force,” he said, “but its growth is largely on track.”
Meanwhile, McChrystal called securing the southern part of Afghanistan the top operational priority, and cited additional forces flowing into Afghanistan to support Afghan efforts as key to its success.
He noted operations started 10 months ago into Taliban-controlled parts of the Helmand River valley that expanded the Afghan government’s influence there. Earlier this year, more U.S. forces arrived to partner with Afghans and secure parts of central Helmand that had remained under Taliban control.
Additional arriving forces will reinforce ongoing efforts to secure Kandahar in an Afghan-led operation that McChrystal said focuses on the province’s complex political and governance issues. “These dimensions are at the heart of the problem, and their solution will ultimately be decisive,” he said.
“Our efforts in Afghanistan are ultimately about changing the perceptions of people,” said McChrystal, emphasizing the importance he has placed on preventing civilian casualties while enhancing security and other developments.
“Afghans long impacted by conflict and struggle believe more of what they see than what they hear,” the general said. “Only when they experience security from [insurgent] coercion, and only when they benefit from better governance, will they begin to believe in the possibilities of the future.”
It’s a process McChrystal conceded won’t be easy or happen overnight. “It will demand courage and resilience,” he said. “We encounter increased violence as our combined security forces expand into Taliban-controlled areas.”
Asked his view of Karzai’s reconciliation plans involving the Taliban, McChrystal said the most important thing is that it be “an Afghan solution crafted by Afghans.” In addition, such reconciliation efforts must be inclusive and “feel fair to everyone,” he said, ensuring “everybody has the opportunity to reintegrate in or rejoin the political process.”
McChrystal acknowledged Iran’s reach into Afghanistan, but said most of it is “fairly legitimate.”
“There is evidence [and] intelligence that indicates some malign activity as well,” he said, noting insurgent training and arms shipments. “But, they are not significant in numbers, and they have not been enough to change the basic calculus of the fight at this point.”