By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 2, 2007 - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he is very optimistic about the future of Afghanistan, and the young Americans who are serving there, along with those who served before them, have much to be proud of. Marine Gen. Peter Pace came to Afghanistan to say thank you to the Americans serving here as he enters his final month of military service.
Pace visited with members of the Ghazni Provincial Reconstruction Team and with paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division.
He praised the American effort in the country as a total joint effort of the military services. An example of that occurred here, when Pace – a Marine – presented an Army award to and Air Force sergeant.
Pace told the troops that he has seen many signs of progress in the country.
"There are traffic jams in Kabul," he told the servicemembers. "It was something you would not have dreamed of six years ago."
Pace flew to this forward operating base via helicopter and noticed all the changes in the country since his first visit in 2001 – right after the liberation of the country from the Taliban.
There are now cars and trucks on the road. Family compounds have new tin roofs. Some houses are topped with satellite dishes. The mud walls separating property all show work and most are in good repair. There are windows in what was gaping holes. Irrigation canals have been repaired and are being used to water green fields in what was once a desert.
There are also cement plants and brick factories, and where the government has taken hold, economic progress has followed, Pace said.
"I see continued progress on the political side as well," the general said. "But remember they have a long way to go. Their literacy rate is low and they have to build a lot of schools and train a lot of teachers" before they can sustain the progress.
Pace said he sees a need for more highways and roads. "As you well know, the problems (with terrorists) begin, where the highways end," he said.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, the commander of NATO's Regional Command-East, said there remain problems, but there has been tremendous progress.
"People who come here for the first time talk about how terrible it is," Rodriguez said in a short interview. "They didn't see this country in 2001. There was no infrastructure. The people were intimidated and fearful. There was no hope.
"Now there is, and the Afghans are making the best of it," he continued.
Rodriguez said that opium poppies are a huge problem for Afghanistan, and the Afghan police need a lot of work. The U.S. Army will send over another brigade in the coming months to help train the Afghan National Police.
The Afghan National Army is doing very well, Rodriguez said.
"They have soldiers from all over the country, they are well-respected by the people and they are taking the lead in many places," Rodriguez said.
In addition to meeting and thanking troops, Pace met with Army Gen. Dan McNeill, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, on Bagram Air Base.