By Donna Miles
WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 2006 – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reflected today, the fifth anniversary of the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, on successes already achieved in Afghanistan and those under way, noting that "the trajectory is a hopeful and promising one." Writing an op-ed in today's Washington Post, Rumsfeld recalled five years ago today, when President Bush announced the mission, designed to disrupt and destroy al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and the regime that had harbored and supported Osama bin Laden's terrorist network.
"It was never going to be an easy mission. Afghanistan was among the world's poorest nations, with little political or economic infrastructure," Rumsfeld wrote today. He observed that three decades of war, drought and a Soviet occupation had left Afghanistan "a broken, lawless nation."
He acknowledged the enormity of the challenge Operation Enduring Freedom posed. "From halfway around the world, with but a few weeks' notice, coalition forces were charged with securing a landlocked, mountainous country that history had dubbed the 'graveyard' of great powers," he said.
Rumsfeld said it's "not surprising" that military experts and columnists, who cited "forbidding terrain, brutal weather and the Sovet Union's total failure," began referring to Vietnam and quagmires -- both before and during combat operations.
Yet Operation Enduring Freedom quickly showed successes, he reflected. Within weeks, the Taliban had been defeated, "consigning yet another cruel regime to the dustbin of history," Rumsfeld said. "Coalition forces took control of Kabul, and since then, the Afghan people have fashioned a new constitution and successfully held the first democratic presidential election in their long history."
Five years after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, Rumsfeld cited another milestone on Afghanistan's road to stability. NATO took control of security operations for the entire country, as well as the 24 provincial reconstruction teams that are strengthening infrastructure across the nation, on Oct. 5.
"This is an unprecedented moment for the NATO alliance," Rumsfeld said. He noted that in 2001, NATO forces deployed for the first time beyond their traditional European borders.
Today, coalition forces in Afghanistan have topped 20,000, in addition to about 21,000 American troops serving there, he said.
"Not all the news about Afghanistan is encouraging," the secretary acknowledged. "There is, for example, the legitimate worry that increased poppy production could be a destabilizing factor. And rising violence in southern Afghanistan is real."
Rumsfeld referred to Afghan President Hamid Karzai's recent comments to Bush at the White House and Karzai's recognition of his country's problems. "We know our problems. We have difficulties," Rumsfeld said Karzai told Bush. "But Afghanistan also knows where the problem is:" poverty and extremism, Karzai said.
"Success requires a strong and capable Afghan government that can provide services and opportunities for all its people," Rumsfeld wrote today.
"During the active combat or conventional phase of any war, there are clear signs of progress: battles won, key strategic points taken, enemy forces captured or killed," he said. "In the post-battle phase, however, the measure of progress is not as clear -- especially in a war such as the global war on terror, which relies so heavily on the development of civic institutions in places that have known little more than war and destitution."
Despite all the challenges the Afghan people face, Rumsfeld pointed to many "promising indicators" of success. He cited examples in a broad range of fronts:
Security: The Afghan National Army has grown to more than 30,000, with approximately 1,000 soldiers added each month. The Afghan National Police now number more than 46,000. Afghan forces were successful in providing security for the two national elections held since 2004.
Economy: Afghanistan's economy has tripled in the past five years and is projected to increase another 20 percent next year. Between 2003 and 2004, government revenue increased 70 percent, to $300 million. Coca-Cola recently opened a $25 million bottling plant in Kabul, and other large multinational companies are considering opportunities in Afghanistan.
Education: More than 42 million school textbooks have been printed and distributed, and some 50,000 Afghan teachers have been trained during the past five years. Almost 600 schools have been built, and now more than 5 million children attend school--a 500 percent increase since 2001.
Health care: At least 80 percent of Afghans have access to at least basic health care, compared to only 8 percent in 2001. Some 5 million Afghan children have been vaccinated.
Infrastructure: Thousands of kilometers of roads have been built or improved since the Taliban fell. Since 2004, 25 provincial courthouses have been built and hundreds of judges trained.
"Building a new nation is never a straight, steady climb upward," Rumsfeld wrote. "Today can sometimes look worse than yesterday -- or even two months ago. What matters is the overall trajectory: Where do things stand today when compared to what they were five years ago?" In Afghanistan, he said, "the trajectory is a hopeful and promising one."