By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
April 18, 2007 – Coalition and Afghan National Army operations have blunted the Taliban spring offensive in eastern Afghanistan, Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Votel said at a Pentagon news conference today. Votel, the deputy commanding general for operations for Combined Joint Task Force 82, spoke to reporters via a video hook-up.
Votel said coalition operations seem to have countered the long-anticipated Taliban spring offensive.
"We have been more offensive than I think they have in our posturing and in our ability to dominate areas on the battlefield," Votel said. "As a result of that, I think we've seen a decrease in activities along the border. And our ability to be in more places, along with our Afghan national security force partners, has enabled us to address a broader area across Regional Command East."
Coalition and Afghan leaders began preparing to counter the Taliban offensive over the winter. More NATO and U.S. troops are in the country, there is closer cooperation with Pakistani forces, and more Afghan forces moved to the border area to stop Taliban infiltration. This seems to have paid off, Votel said.
"So I would not necessarily characterize it as any kind of offensive," he said. "We certainly haven't seen it manifest itself to any great degree."
There have been attacks, the general said, "but we have not seen what I would describe as a spring offensive by the Taliban."
Regional Command East is part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. U.S., NATO and Afghan forces continue to hunt Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. The command helps train Afghan soldiers, police and border patrol personnel. It also helps extend the influence and control of the central and provincial governments.
The command is in the midst of Operation Eagle Teamwork, which builds on the counterinsurgency strategy of clear, hold and build.
"In the clear phase, we are focusing on separating the insurgents from the population," Votel said. "This requires the Afghan national security forces' participation at all levels to kill or capture the enemy and disrupt his command and control capability. To this end, we are conducting military operations in the interior of the country and along the border area with Pakistan."
In the hold phase, the command helps the Afghan government establish a permanent presence in the region. In the build phase, the command invests in developing and expanding government capabilities into these provincial and district areas, the general said.
"We are working very closely with the U.S. Agency for International Development and other national and international non-governmental organizations to ensure our military operations are quickly followed by reconstruction and development activities that extend the reach and influence of the district, provincial and national governments," he said.
Regional Command East has spent more than $125 million of the Commanders Emergency Response Program funds to make a difference in the lives of Afghans in the region, Votel said.
"Our top development efforts are focused on provincial coordination centers, district coordination centers, the development and capacity building within the Afghan national security forces, roads, agriculture, border security, education and health care," he said.
In the past three months, the command has funded 14 agricultural projects, more than 60 educational projects, about 20 electricity projects and more than 40 health care projects. "Water is a key aspect here in Afghanistan, and as a result, we've worked 25 irrigation projects, repairing dams, water systems, flood walls and canals," Votel said.
Roads are key in the landlocked country. The command has nearly 65 transportation projects -- roads, bridges, and retaining walls -- under way, the general said.
U.S. soldiers have taken the news that they must serve 15-month tours in Afghanistan in stride, Votel said. "Nobody wants to stay any longer than they're required to stay here in Afghanistan," he said. "But that said, you know, we are relatively early on in our deployment here. It was not unexpected completely that we might be extended.
"I think in talking to most soldiers out there - and I do have a pretty good opportunity to get around and visit with them and talk to them - they are glad to be here participating in this mission," he continued. "They believe in it. And I think they're committed to stay and accomplish the mission. And we will trust that our leaders will be taking care of our families and get us back as soon as we can and when we've completed our portion of the mission."
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