By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 31, 2007 - Progress in eastern Afghanistan continues as more Afghan security forces take the lead in security operations, more reconstruction and development projects provide sorely needed quality-of-life improvements, and the national government extends its reach, a senior military officer in the region said today. Army Brig. Gen. Rodney Anderson, deputy commander for support for Combined Joint Task Force 82 and Regional Command East, said he's seen "many encouraging signs" since the 82nd Airborne Division's arrival in February.
"This will take some time, but in pursuit of the (United Nations') Millennium Development Goals and supporting the Afghan National Development Strategy, we firmly see signs and clear evidence of movement toward a stable Afghanistan," he told Pentagon reporters via video teleconference from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Anderson said projects being undertaken in Regional Command East -- an area about the size of South Carolina that includes 14 of the country's 34 provinces -- reflect eight goals the U.N. adopted in 2000 to improve health, education and economic and social lives worldwide by 2015.
They also support aims of the Afghan National Development Strategy, a five-year plan being finalized by the Afghan government to establish milestones in the security, governance, development and other arenas, he said.
Among the most promising developments in Regional Command East has been the building of about 480 miles of roads that have spurred gas stations, hotels and other commerce. Meanwhile, the NATO International Security Assistance Force is partnering with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, whose capability is increasing daily, he said.
As development continues and security improves, Anderson said, there's a steady growth in confidence in the Afghan government.
While buoyed by steady progress, Anderson conceded challenges to be overcome. Security remains shaky in some areas, with "harassing attacks" against platoon-sized coalition outposts and Afghan civilians inflicting casualties. But despite a stepped-up Taliban presence in the south, near Kandahar, enemy activity in the east has remained relatively stable since Ramadan.
Corruption, including pay and kickback schemes, is evident throughout the Afghan government. While corruption hinders development progress, Anderson said, it hasn't brought it to a stop. Other challenges include narcotics and limited government capacity at the community and district levels, he said.
Anderson said he credits partnerships between coalition forces, the Afghan National Army and National Police and international organizations including the U.S. Agency for International Development with addressing these challenges head-on.
"In places we have been able to provide security ... and deliver reconstruction and development aid, the population has been very supportive of the government," he said.
"That has been our key to success -- to have the Afghans take the lead and to demonstrate to those locations that might have previously had a Taliban presence that reconstruction and development and the security of their own police is definitely in their best interest."