By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
July 23, 2009 - Coalition efforts on the ground in Afghanistan and the Afghan people's willingness to turn their backs on the insurgency will be the most decisive measures for success there, the Pentagon's head of special operations said today. In a roundtable discussion today over breakfast with defense and national security reporters at the Fairmont Hotel here, Michael G. Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations/ low-intensity conflict and interdependent capabilities, discussed an array of topics regarding special operations forces and U.S. endeavors in Afghanistan.
Without experienced troops and local support, the fighting in Afghanistan could continue for decades longer, Vickers said. Completely ousting al-Qaida and Taliban networks there will require the Afghans to eventually defend themselves, he said.
"Ultimately, [the counterinsurgency fight in Afghanistan] will be won and lost on the ground, and it will be won and lost by the Afghan people," Vickers, a former Army special forces soldier and CIA operations officer, said. "Ultimately, an insurgency is won at the local level."
Vickers noted al-Qaida's resilience and ability to overcome setbacks. The group has suffered significantly several times since 2001, but has been able to rebuild, he said.
Throughout the past year, countless al-Qaida leadership and operatives there have been killed or captured. However, al-Qaida still has capabilities and continues to fight aggressively, he said.
"[Al-Qaida] remains a very dangerous organization and threat," he said. "It would certainly be enormously premature to say that conflict with them is over."
Over the next few years, Vickers explained, the broad focus of the coalition counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan is to bring security to its populace. He stressed the importance to also have measurable, realistic near- and mid-term objectives in regards to governance and Afghan national security forces, too.
"The [goal] is not how many enemy fighters are killed, but really, is how much security you can bring to the country, then legitimacy to the government of that country in support of the population, and obviously prevent incursion by the insurgents," he said.
Vickers added, "In the immediate term, our objective, [within] one to two years, is really to reverse the momentum the insurgency has been gaining to shift the balance [and] to move it towards a direction of irreversible bounds."
This objective is being spearheaded by an increase of U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan, Vickers said. Before additional U.S. troops arrived there in the spring, the U.S. footprint was about 30,000 military members. Within the next two months, that number will increase to 68,000. Most of those forces will be operating in the Regional Command South area of operation "to play a significant role in reversing [the insurgent's] momentum," he added.
Vickers couldn't be specific on whether this would be a temporary "surge" similar to the Iraqi surge in 2007, but offered that part of the reason for the U.S. troop increase is because "the Afghan security forces are too small for the challenge they face."
"[Afghan forces] are very capable in some areas," he continued, "but it will take some time to build up the Afghan National Security Forces."
Transitioning security to the Afghans is one of the core objectives of President Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy in hopes of lightening the U.S. footprint, he said.
"Our goal is to partner with Afghans in everything that we do, and to progressively transition more and more leads in the operations to the Afghans," he said.