By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service
Oct. 27, 2008 - The mood of Afghan citizens has changed dramatically in the past year due to the progress the Afghan security forces have made, a senior military official said Oct. 24. "I've seen a lot of progress here in the Afghan army and police," Army Col. Bill Hix, commander of Afghan Regional Security Integration Command South, said to bloggers during a teleconference.
While the Afghan Army has had about five years to develop, Hix said, the Afghan police didn't really start to reform until last summer, when U.S. troops began to mentor them. Progress has been gained in the professionalism of the Afghan Security Forces but there are issues that need to be addressed, Hix said.
During the Sarposa prison break in June, Hix said, the Afghan government responded quickly, deploying more than 1,000 soldiers in less than 24 hours to combat the Taliban, but there were a number of problems. At that point, he said, Afghanistan's Army and police forces weren't working as closely together as they are now.
For the past few weeks, the Taliban have been intimidating citizens to try to gain power in Helmand province.
"The fundamental difference between what is happening today in Helmand and what happened in Kandahar in June is that the Army and police are operating as an integrated team," Hix said. "In some cases, the police are fighting side by side with the army."
Another component to the improvement of the Afghan security forces are the operational mentor and liaison teams that have been embedded with the army and police, Hix said.
"We've got mentor teams embedded in the Afghan army and police from three different nations," he said. "We conduct coordination, but all of us are actually taking our lead from the Afghan commander."
Hix acknowledged that some corruption remains inside the Afghan security forces, but he said it is being addressed through several programs.
"There are a number of programs that we've instituted, most of them in the police, because the police have a much stronger reputation for corruption," he said. "On the Army side, there is an increasingly energetic [inspector general] audit team program that's being put in place that goes out and looks at corruption." Hix expressed confidence that the corruption issue will continue to improve.
Improved professionalism among Afghan soldiers and police has led to greater confidence in them among the Afghan people, Hix said.
"There's a degree of hope for the future that they may have not had before," Hix said. "Pushing the Taliban away from the population, disrupting their safe havens in areas where they prepare before they come in to put [bombs] on the road [or] attack a checkpoint ... is really key to kind of keeping them off-balance and putting them on the run," Hix explained.
When the Afghan Army and police forces are the ones who are taking the fight to the Taliban on a day-to-day basis, the confidence of the people is going to rise, Hix said.
"I think the concern of the Taliban is going to rise as well," he added, "because they're no longer going to be able to claim that they're fighting an infidel's army."
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)