U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Martin Ratkowski and his military working dog, Tosca, search a home for homemade explosives in a local village in Mizan district, Afghanistan, Oct. 20, 2011. Ratkowski is a Combined Team Zabul K-9 handler assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras)
WASHINGTON (October 27, 2011) — Insurgents fighting against the Afghan government and people can end their violent ways and rejoin their communities or face unrelenting pressure, a senior International Security Assistance Force commander said today.
“With our Afghan partners, we will continue to create an inhospitable environment for the insurgents to return to in the spring,” Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of ISAF Joint Command, said today during a teleconference with Pentagon reporters.
Scaparrotti laid out his plans for the upcoming seasonal change. Insurgent activity historically slows down during the harsh Afghan winter.
“Our objectives this fall and winter will be [to] maintain pressure on the enemy,” he said. “[We’ll] expand on our security gains; continue to hold the south, both Kandahar and the central Helmand River valley, [and] maintain a strong offensive in the east.”
“[We will] enable the Afghan security forces to take the lead during the spring fighting season. And finally, we will continue to press reintegration at all levels across Afghanistan,” Scaparrotti said.
The general cited significant advances in Afghanistan over the past decade, specifically since the troop surge of 2009 and 2010.
“Since 2002, the Afghan [gross domestic product] has grown by 12 percent a year on average,” Scaparrotti noted. “More than five times as many children are in school. And while there is still a need to improve health care, access has greatly increased. Today, nearly 85 percent of Afghans have basic health care within one hour of where they live.”
Scaparrotti lauded the Afghan government’s achievements since 2009.
“Now there are over 300,000 Afghan national security forces throughout the country,” he said. “On a daily basis, they are conducting operations across Afghanistan. A majority of all coalition operations are partnered with Afghan security forces, and increasingly, the Afghans are in the lead.”
ISAF and its Afghan partners have surpassed their own projections this past winter, Scaparrotti said, having significantly degraded the insurgents’ capabilities by targeting their command and control, support bases and infiltration routes.
“As a result,” he added, “we created the right conditions for a successful summer fighting season and supported the process of transition.”
Scaparrotti told reporters he recognizes that transition in Afghanistan is not just about military operations.
“It is [also] about creating the right opportunities and conditions for the Afghan government and the people of Afghanistan to be successful and have a better way of life,” he said. Elections and the hiring of government officials are evidence of the growth of the government and development opportunities in Afghanistan, he added.
“Today, many more Afghans are voting in local elections and participating in their local governments,” he said. “Over 50 percent of all deputy provincial governors in the [Regional Command] South and Southwest [areas] have been employed through merit-based hiring.”
Earlier this month, 57 new judges were sworn in by the Afghan Supreme Court, Scaparrotti said, noting these judges will be working in districts considered by the Afghan government as having significant potential to expand the reach of formal governance in the population.
Scaparrotti also described “great progress” in education.
“Today, there are more than 13,000 schools, 170,000 teachers and 8 million students, including roughly 3.2 million girls,” he said. In 2001, the general said, it was estimated that Afghanistan had fewer than 1,000 schools and 1 million students nationwide, and few of those students were girls.
Although much progress has been made, Afghans and the coalition will face many challenges ahead and be forced to make some tough decisions, Scaparrotti said.
“At all times, we’ll focus on our strong partnership,” he said, “which is based on frank communication, respect and integrity.”
Scaparrotti said the coalition is unified and committed to mission success. “Our strategy is now focused, the coalition is strong, our Afghan partners are fully engaged, and we have the momentum, resources and resolve to succeed,” he said.