By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 6, 2008 - A number of factors have combined to decrease the level of Taliban infiltration into Afghanistan, the commander of NATO's Regional Command East said here March 4. Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez sat down with reporters soon after accompanying Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a visit to the Korengal Valley, one of the hottest areas in his command.
Rodriguez said there has been a decrease in Taliban and al Qaeda infiltration into Afghanistan's eastern provinces, but that it remains a problem the command will deal with. The border with Pakistan is porous, and the mountainous terrain lends itself to smuggling, even during peace. There are also ties of family and tribe across the border. Still, NATO and Afghan security forces are making inroads against Taliban infiltration, the general said.
"The intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance effort out here is good," Rodriguez said. "Everyone is helping us bring in more over time. Because of the terrain – it's mountainous, it's tough – you couldn't see everything with any ISR that we have right now. The terrain is so undulating. We do a good job of maximizing the equipment that we do have."
The command disrupts infiltration with a combination of forward operating bases, patrolling and of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. "None of them alone is going to solve everything. That's how complex and difficult it is," he said.
The troubles in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas across the border are being felt in Afghanistan. There have been fewer Taliban trying to infiltrate.
"The Taliban are very opportunistic," the general said. "They flow and move where the opportunities present themselves. With all of the things going on inside Pakistan right now, that has had an impact in what is going on along the border."
But the troubles in Pakistan are only a part of the decrease. "We've had some successful significant operations," he said. "We've had more Afghan national security forces than we've had as they grow that capacity."
NATO is establishing border cooperation centers. Under the concept, Afghan, Pakistani and NATO personnel will share data on infiltration across the border. The first of those goes into operation later this month, the general said.
The general said the command works mostly with the provincial governments and that the provincial capacity is growing faster than the central government's capacity. "It takes more to turn a big ship than a small one," he explained.
Rodriguez's command is a NATO force, and he praised the Polish combat team for their work in Regional Command East. The Polish forces, he said, have done everything they've been asked to do and more. "There are no caveats," he said. Some NATO countries restrict how their forces in Afghanistan can be used.
"When they first came to train with us in the United States, they hadn't done any counterinsurgency operations," Rodriguez said. "But they really stepped out here. For their second deployment, they brought more engineers and civil affairs people, which is just what we need."
The general also said the New Zealand-led provincial reconstruction team and an Egyptian hospital that treats more than 3,000 Afghans a month are important resources for the command.