By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
June 27, 2008 - A pair of Defense Department reports published today on Afghanistan describe progress with regard to the country's security and national forces. The studies, which analyze results of Operation Enduring Freedom through March, were mandated by Congress and represent the first installment of what are slated to be semi-annual progress updates.
The Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan depicts a "fragile" security environment in much of the country. It concludes, however, that coalition forces' counterinsurgency approach has demonstrated how a hybrid of military and nonmilitary resources can create stability and connect Afghan citizens to their government.
Underscoring the fragility of situation in Afghanistan and its tendency for rapid change is the fact that some of the report's assertions about security success -- based on information available several months ago and earlier -- no longer are as solid as once believed.
For instance, the report highlights Khowst province in eastern Afghanistan as an example of a once-troubled region transformed by counterinsurgency operations.
"Khowst was once considered ungovernable and one of the most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan," the report states. "Today, tangible improvements in security, governance, reconstruction, and development are being made."
But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday expressed concern that attacks in NATO's Regional Command East section of Afghanistan, which includes Khowst province, rose 40 percent from January to May.
Gates, in a news conference yesterday, attributed the rise in violence to militants using Pakistan's North West Frontier Province as a staging ground for launching attacks in Afghanistan. But the report does not identify threats emanating from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region -- which Gates called a recent phenomenon -- as a primary security challenge.
Challenges outlined in the report include the narcotics trade and the Taliban. These militants regrouped after their fall from power and have coalesced into a resilient insurgency, according to the report, which notes a rise in insurgent violence in 2007. More that 6,500 people died as a result of suicide attacks, roadside bombs and combat-related violence, it said.
Despite coalition success in combating them, Taliban operatives are likely to maintain or even increase the scope and pace of terrorist attacks and bombings in 2008, the report concludes.
"The Taliban will challenge the control of the Afghan government in rural areas, especially in the south and east," it states. "The Taliban will also probably attempt to increase its presence in the west and north."
The security report credits a plus-up of U.S. forces over the spring with reinforcing Afghan and international forces' momentum, and for enabling the Afghan national security forces to grow quickly – from 70,000 to 80,000 army personnel by 2010.
Meanwhile, the report states, the deployment of a U.S. Marine Corps Marine Air Ground Task Force is bolstering the ability of NATO's International Security Assistance Forces to maneuver troops in Regional Command South.
The other security and stability highlights outlined in the report are:
-- The Afghan National Army had taken the lead in more than 30 significant operations at the time of the report, and the force has demonstrated increasing competence, effectiveness and professionalism.
-- Since 2001, Afghanistan has made significant progress rebuilding its national political institutions. Afghans wrote and passed a new constitution in 2004, 8.1 million people voted in the nation's first presidential election, and 6.4 million voters helped reestablish the National Assembly after 32 years without a legislature.
-- The gross domestic product, per capita income and foreign direct investment all are up since 2001. Afghanistan's domestic revenues have grown considerably, and international reserves have nearly doubled since 2004.
Key points from the report titled, "United States Plan for Sustaining the Afghanistan National Security Forces" include:
-- The capabilities of the Afghan National Army are improving steadily, with a long-term army posture that also may include a more robust army air corps capability and a larger force.
-- The Afghan National Police force is making steady progress, but its capabilities still lag behind those of the national army. The current police force has not been sufficiently reformed or developed to a level at which it can adequately perform its security and policing mission; however, coalition governments are working to improve the police capabilities, with a target force size of 82,000 personnel.
-- An independent, capable army and police are critical to counterinsurgency effort, thus it is crucial that coalition partners dedicate the necessary resources and personnel to ensure that the mission to develop the Afghan national security forces is a success.