By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
June 24, 2008 - U.S., coalition and Afghan security forces are hunting down the Taliban and other insurgents operating in Afghanistan, while vital reconstruction and governance programs continue to spread across the country, a senior U.S. military officer said today. Steady progress is being made in Afghanistan in the areas of security, development and governance, Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 101 and 101st Airborne Division, told Pentagon reporters during a satellite-carried news conference.
"We're clearly not done, and I'm nowhere near yet able to say that we've reached irreversible momentum," said Schloesser, who arrived in Afghanistan in April and also heads counterinsurgency operations for NATO's Regional Command East. "But I do know that we're making good progress, and each and every day we're making a difference in the Afghan people's lives."
Noting a 40-percent increase in enemy attacks in his sector in the January-to-May timeframe compared to a year ago, Schloesser pointed out that attacks on U.S., coalition and Afghan security forces have gone up each year since 2002. The general also acknowledged that 40 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians have been killed since his command took responsibility for the region in early April.
"And again, our heart goes out ... to their selfless sacrifice," Schloesser said. Czech and Polish soldiers, he noted, were among the fallen.
The rise in attacks is attributable, in part, to increased activity against the enemy, Schloesser said. An improved Afghan army, as well as U.S. and NATO troops, he noted, are taking the fight to the enemy in places that hadn't been patrolled before.
"Clearly, the Afghan National Army is better than it was last year, and to be truthful, we are going to places that they did not operate in last year or the year prior," Schloesser said.
U.S., coalition and Afghan forces are "hunting down the enemy of the Afghan people and trying to rout them," the general said.
Insurgents have a choice: leave Afghanistan, stay and make peace, or be captured or killed, Schloesser said. "So we're taking the fight to the enemy," the general said, "but we are working in support areas that we had not been before inside of Afghanistan."
The insurgents are attacking schools, killing students and teachers in the process, while also targeting county and provincial government centers as well as road-building projects, Schloesser said. In fact, he added, they're attacking "anything that will improve the quality of life for the normal Afghan citizen" in an effort to separate the Afghan people from their government.
However, the insurgents' destructive efforts "don't offer any kind of positive effect" for the Afghan people, Schloesser said.
Meanwhile, U.S. military officials are working with Afghan authorities and international agencies to build schools, roads and improve infrastructure across Afghanistan. Today, he said, about $240 million in reconstruction projects are planned.
In addition, the Texas and Missouri National Guard have brought agricultural teams to Afghanistan to help out Afghan farmers, Schloesser reported. "We're seeing good results already," he said.
The symbol of security and governance for the Afghan people is their army, Schloesser said.
"I personally believe that we are right at the point where we're almost at the tipping point, where the momentum of the Afghan National Army will not be able to go backwards," Schloesser said. "We look forward to seeing some increases in their capability and their numbers and capacity in the future, and I've just got to say it's a real pleasure to all of us to work with such a group of professionals."