By Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
June 24, 2007 – Afghanistan has come a long way in the six years since the U.S. and NATO began working with the nation after the Taliban was driven from power by coalition forces, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said while visiting U.S. troops deployed here. U.S. Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, visiting Afghanistan on the second stop of a six-day trip, has been a first-hand witness to the improvements to the Afghan people's way of life.
Upon arrival in Kabul, the admiral visited the hangar that houses the joint operations center here. Almost six years ago, Giambastiani traveled with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to meet with Hamid Karzai in the same hangar. At the time, Karzai was a tribal leader fighting the Taliban. Now, he is the first democratically elected president of Afghanistan.
At the time, the hangar was bombed out and there was a single 1,000 watt generator and a couple of light bulbs, Giambastiani said. The group sat in 40 degree temperatures for four hours and discussed the future of Afghanistan.
"This country was decimated, desolate and it seemed like it was in the Stone Age," the vice chairman said. "There was almost no infrastructure whatsoever. Here we are today in late June 2007, almost six years later, and we have a democratically elected government, a parliament, and increasing vibrancy and commerce. There's a long way to go, but it's remarkable how far this country has come."
One area that needs additional attention is the continued development of the governance process, he said.
"Probably the most significant challenges are on the economic, governance and political side," Giambastiani said. "The Afghan National Army is moving ahead and probably has as much capability as any entity within the Afghan government."
The admiral said other portions of the Afghan government have to continue working to provide the services and government for their people, including a strong police force and judicial system.
"All of those are real challenges that Afghanistan, the United States, NATO forces and the international community face in the days ahead," the vice chairman said.
The bulk of the work in Afghanistan is now being done by NATO forces, something the admiral said is critical to helping the Afghani government.
"NATO has been significant and NATO has been here for a long time," Giambastiani said. Giambastiani is a former NATO Allied Supreme Commander Transformation who was involved in various aspects of the NATO effort and has watched the mission expand over the years. NATO was initially in Kabul, but has spread across all four of the regional commands now in place in Afghanistan.
Along the trip, the vice chairman was able to meet with senior commanders and troops from all branches of the military, and he got a feel for what the mood in Afghanistan is like.
"Morale is sky high," the admiral said.
Giambastiani said meeting with troops is one of the most important parts of his job as the vice chairman.
"I enjoy coming out and meeting with the troops," he said. "Every time I see soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, it gives me a check with reality. It gives me an ability to engage with them and ask them questions to see what they think, how they feel, and whether we're supplying them with the right equipment and tools to do their jobs.
He also said meeting with the troops is very satisfying.
"I come away incredibly motivated just meeting each one of these young people because they are mission-oriented and goal-oriented," the admiral said. "They want to do the job and they want to do it right. They're proud of what they do and frankly, all of the American people should be very proud of them. I know our military forces are. I get rejuvenated when I'm out here."
"I think what we've been able to do with the United States military is quite remarkable over these many years. We have the most professional, most competent, most learning organization I've ever seen. It is impressive. The people are impressive. They continue to be impressive in the capabilities we've built. The American people ought to be very proud."
When Giambastiani hands over the reigns as vice chairman in August, he said there's clearly one thing he'll miss the most.
"I'll miss the people," the admiral said. "I'll miss the day-to-day interaction with young people. That's what really keeps me going."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump is assigned to the Joint Staff public affairs office.)