American Forces Press Service
Dec. 17, 2008 - "The best people to defend Afghanistan are the Afghans," the coalition's top officer in the effort to train Afghan security forces said as his tour came to an end. Army Maj. Gen. Robert W. Cone, commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, wrapped up his tour at a change-of-command ceremony Dec. 11 with Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police leaders in attendance.
Cone, a native of Manchester, N.H., arrived in Kabul in June 2007. He said one of the most significant accomplishments of his 18-month tenure was the growth of the Afghan National Army. CSTC-A soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilian personnel assisted the Afghan National Army in expanding its force by 26,000 soldiers in the last year, tripling the growth rate of previous years.
"There is little doubt that the ANA is widely recognized as a success story in a land that recently has not known many," Cone said. Plans call for expanding the Afghan National Army by another 28,000 soldiers, he added, and with the effort to field up-armored Humvees and NATO weapons to replace light-tactical vehicles and Warsaw Pact weapons Is on track.
Cone also was responsible for initiating a program to train the Afghan National Police. Cone inherited a Police force generally considered ineffective and rife with corruption. But just in the last year, Cone and his command trained 22,000 police -- more than a quarter of the force.
The cornerstone of Cone's police reform and retraining program is called "focused district development," which involves sending a district's entire Police force to a regional training center while a highly trained unit of Police provides security in the district. When the newly trained local officers return, they work with the substitute force and coalition mentors to help their training take root.
The mission is vastly under-resourced, he noted. "We're very pleased with our progress, but we have more to do."
During his command, the West Point graduate said, he came to respect the spirit and strength of the Afghanistan people.
"They are a patriotic people who have endured one invasion after another, who always rise from the mountains and deserts to defend their country against those who would tear it apart," he said. "They will not fail in their fight against this insurgency, and we will not fail them.
"We cannot violate the collective trust we have earned over the last seven years," he continued. "Afghans trust us to act in their best interest and not our own. They trust that we will deliver on our promises."
Cone added that the command "must continue to earn this trust by developing personal relationships, understanding the issues they face and delivering with effective solutions."
Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan's defense minister, conveyed his gratitude for the positive impact of both the general the CSTC-A headquarters here.
"With a strong conviction, I can say that no command in the U.S. armed forces or the international forces has so lasting, so far-reaching and so enduring effects and impact on the peace, security, stability and future prosperity of this country as CSTC-A," Wardak said. "Gen. Robert W. Cone has made himself a permanent part of the history of the development of the Afghan national security forces, and he will always be remembered."
Cone said his experience in Afghanistan was the most rewarding of his career, and that he never anticipated the level of friendship and personal enjoyment working with the Afghans.
"Through three dark decades of war, Afghans have maintained their unique culture of generosity, hospitality and unflagging optimism. Their strength is remarkable and their resilience admirable," Cone said. "I can tell you that whenever I need my spirits lifted, I sit down and talk with my Afghan friends. I listen to them tell me their vision for the future of this great country, and I am inspired."
Cone said his next assignment is yet to be determined, but he first plans to spend time with his family in Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)