By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 2010 - Increased troop casualties in Afghanistan are to be expected this summer, and likely will continue through the fall as U.S. forces ramp up counterinsurgency efforts in anticipation of a drawdown to begin next year, a military official said yesterday.
"It will be a tough fall. But what we're gaining is, we're clearing these areas that never have been cleared," a senior U.S. military officer who serves in Afghanistan said during a background interview with Pentagon reporters.
The uptick in violence was expected as more troops flow into the country and increase operations to quash Taliban control, he said. The last of 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama authorized should be in place by the end of this month.
Military officials on the ground in Afghanistan are compiling reports and determining metrics for a review of conditions in the South Asia region to be released in December. The review will help to determine the start of a drawdown in Afghanistan, the officer said. Similar, but more focused discussions about Afghanistan will take place at a NATO summit scheduled for Nov. 19-20 in Lisbon, Portugal, he said.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday reiterated that the drawdown Obama announced to begin next July will be based on conditions on the ground. If today is an indication of ground conditions then, Afghanistan's southern and eastern provinces will be the last places U.S. and NATO forces leave, the military officer told reporters.
The coalition still is focused on securing Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and increasingly working to curtail corruption and improve business and governance there, he said. U.S. and Afghan forces have created rings of security checkpoints leading into Kandahar, and still are working to protect the outlying districts of Maywand, Zhari, Arghandab and Sin Boldak, he said, adding that the Army's 101st Airborne Division soon will add a second brigade in Arghandab, where coalition forces lost 23 servicemembers in battle last year.
NATO and Afghan officials in the country still are working out the process for transitioning authorities to Afghan forces and their ability to obtain resources, the officer said. The Afghan defense ministry has created a strong infantry in its army and is ahead of schedule in meeting its end-strength goals, he said.
While Afghanistan's soldiers have shown strong fighting capability and a willingness to enter tough areas, the officer said, its military lacks certain specialties, such as medical and engineering personnel and specialists who counter roadside bombs. Also, he said, illiteracy continues to be a problem for the Afghan military, and no system exists for growing officers.
Surveys of Afghan residents show that they are just beginning to gain trust in U.S. and coalition forces, the officer said. "We must overcome this trust deficit, and the data shows that we are starting to," he said.