By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
June 28, 2007 – Education and training are key to progress in Afghanistan, the commander of an international coalition task force said from Bagram Air Base today. U.S. Army Col. Jonathan Ives commands Task Force Cincinnatus at the sprawling base in Parwan province. The 1,000-member combined command has servicemembers from the United States, New Zealand, South Korea and Turkey. Ives said he considers the way the command operates as a model for international security aid for Afghanistan in the future.
Even the name of the task force is a lesson to the Afghans. Cincinnatus was a Roman farmer who stepped forward to lead the forces of Rome against enemies. Once the enemies were vanquished, he went back to being a farmer rather than assuming dictatorial power.
The command is centered at Bagram, but also operates in Bamiyan, Panshir, Parwan, Vardak and Kapisa provinces. Education, information and employment are the key words for the task force in countering the appeal of the Taliban and the al Qaeda. Ives said Taliban strength in the provinces in which his unit operates has grown from about 50 fighters last year to roughly 200 today.
Taliban recruiting is responsible for some of the growth, he said. "Fifty percent of the population here is under 15 years old," he said. Taliban sympathizers often teach at mosques, and they are influential, the colonel explained.
He said the command is working with the Afghan government to provide educational opportunities so these youth learn that there are alternatives to the Taliban.
Information and communications also are important, Ives said. The command is working to get radios and cell phone towers into the region. "Maybe we can prevent them from going to the Taliban side and prevent them from growing that force," he said.
Ives said the area is considered "permissive," and it has been ignored to an extent. "We thought that it was safe and secure in this province, and so we considered it to be a non-threat area, and so we didn't apply or maintain a security force," he said.
Neither coalition nor Afghan national security forces remained in the region continuously, he said. "What we're finding here is that what we need is an enduring presence," in the region.
These forces are not necessarily coalition forces, but could be coalition-mentored Afghan forces. If not, the Taliban "will fill that vacuum," he said.