By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 15, 2007 – Success against terrorism in Afghanistan is important to U.S. security, and the administration has key areas it will be working on to improve the situation there, President Bush said here today. In an address to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research Bush said action in Afghanistan will include strengthening NATO forces and bolstering local governments.
The president identified five areas the United States will focus on in Afghanistan: increasing the size and capability of the Afghan security forces; strengthening NATO forces; improving provincial governance and the economy; reversing the increase in poppy cultivation; and fighting corruption.
"Our goal in Afghanistan is to help the people of that country defeat the terrorists and establish a stable, moderate, democratic state that respects the rights of its citizens, governs its territory effectively, and is a reliable ally in this war against extremists and terrorists," Bush said.
That goal is achievable in Afghanistan, Bush said, because freedom is a universal desire of all human beings. He noted that in the last five years, the United States has made significant progress in Afghanistan. The country now has a democratically elected government, the economy has doubled in size, more than 5 million children are in school, and hundreds of health clinics have been built or remodeled, he said.
"In 2001, Afghanistan was a totalitarian nightmare, a land where girls could not go to school, where religious police roamed the streets, where women were publicly whipped, where there were summary executions in the Kabul soccer stadium, and where the terrorists operated freely," Bush said. "Today, five short years later, the Taliban have been driven from power, al Qaeda has been driven from its camps, and Afghanistan is free."
In 2006, as freedom spread in Afghanistan, the enemy struck back, Bush said. The number of roadside bombs almost doubled, direct-fire attacks on international forces almost tripled, and suicide bombings grew nearly fivefold in what was the most violent year in Afghanistan since its liberation, he acknowledged.
"It should be a lesson for our fellow citizens to understand; where these (groups) of people find freedom, they're willing to resort to brutal tactics," Bush said. "It's an interesting enemy, isn't it? An enemy that can't stand the thought of somebody being able to live a peaceful life -- a life of hope, an optimistic life. And it's an enemy we've got to take seriously."
The correct response to these terrorists is to remain on the offensive and aggressively strike back against them, Bush said. The spring offensive that everyone anticipates will be a NATO offensive, he said, not a Taliban offensive.
"Relentless in our pressure, we will not give in to murderers and extremists," Bush said.
The first area the United States will focus on is developing the Afghan security forces, Bush said. NATO plans to increase the size of the national police from 61,000 to 82,000, and the Afghan army from 32,000 to 70,000 by the end of 2008, he said.
The United States and its allies will also help the Afghans develop new specialties, such as civil order brigades, counternarcotics, border surveillance, commando battalions, a helicopter unit, and combat support units.
The United States also worked with NATO and the Afghan government to develop a joint intelligence operations center in Kabul, focused on giving all the security forces in Afghanistan a common picture of the enemy, Bush said.
The second part of U.S. strategy is to work with allies to strengthen the NATO force in Afghanistan, Bush said. Many NATO countries have made commitments of support for the mission in Afghanistan, and now those commitments must be fulfilled, he said. The allied countries must be ready to fill security gaps on the ground, he said, and must lift restrictions on forces that hinder operations.
"The alliance was founded on this principle: An attack on one is an attack on all," Bush said. "That principle holds true whether the attack is on the home soil of a NATO nation or on allied forces deployed on a NATO mission abroad. By standing together in Afghanistan, NATO forces protect their own people, and they must have the flexibility and rules of engagement to be able to do their job."
The United States and its allies will also work with the Afghan government to develop local governance and improve the economy, Bush said. The best way to stop people from joining the Taliban is to create jobs and opportunity, so NATO is operating 25 provincial reconstruction teams across the country, he said.
These teams are made up of civilian and military experts that are helping the Afghan government extend its reach, improving security, and helping to deliver reconstruction assistance. The teams will also build irrigation systems, improve power production, and train local leaders, Bush noted.
Another area the United States will focus on is helping the Afghan government eradicate poppy cultivation. Money from the sale of illicit drugs is used to fund the Taliban and other terrorist organizations, so the drug trade is a direct threat to the free future of Afghanistan. The U.S. government is working with Afghan president Hamid Karzai to eradicate poppy cultivation and provide alternative livelihood programs for farmers, Bush said.
The United States also is working with Karzai to fight corruption in the government, specifically in the judicial system, Bush said.
"There's nothing more discouraging when justice is not fair," he said. "And Afghans too often see their courts run by crooked judges."
The United States, Britain and Norway are providing full-time prosecutors, judges, police and defense attorneys to mentor their Afghan counterparts, and the United States has built or renovated 40 judicial facilities, Bush said. The U.S. has also distributed more than 11,000 copies of the Afghan constitution and trained more than 750 Afghan judges, lawyers and prosecutors, he said.
The president also said the United States plans to work with Afghan and Pakistani leaders to improve cooperation between the two nations in defeating the terrorists who are their common enemy. The U.S. has helped equip Pakistani security forces patrolling the border, is building hundreds of border outposts, and has provided high-tech equipment to help locate terrorists trying to cross into Afghanistan, he said.
"I'm going to continue to work with both the leaders," Bush said. "It's a useful role for the president of the United States to be in constant contact with both presidents to remind them of the great obligations we have to fight extremists and to help people realize dreams."
"Success in Afghanistan is important for our security," Bush concluded. "We are engaged in a long ideological struggle between the forces of moderation and liberty versus the forces of destruction and extremism. And a victory for the forces of liberty in Afghanistan will be a resounding defeat in this ideological struggle. It's in our national interest that we succeed, that we help President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan succeed."
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