By Lisa DanielAmerican Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2011 – Despite recent high-profile attacks, the international coalition is making significant progress in Afghanistan, the Pentagon’s top policy official said today.
Recent violence in Afghanistan, such as an Oct. 31 suicide bombing at a U.N. compound in Kandahar that killed 10 people and an Oct. 29 suicide bus bombing that killed 13 Americans in Kabul, reminded Americans that “bringing about a peaceful Afghanistan is far from complete,” Michéle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, said at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
Such isolated attacks should not cause people to think that U.S. and NATO operations are “doomed,” Flournoy said. Events on the ground prove “momentum has shifted in Afghanistan and the strategy is working.”
Flournoy, a former term member of the council who just returned from her seventh trip to Afghanistan in two years, said the coalition is degrading the insurgency, building up Afghan forces, and holding territory.
A semiannual Defense Department report to Congress last week shows that violence decreased during the spring-summer fighting season this year for the first time in at least five years, Flournoy said. “This is the most sustained downturn in enemy-initiated violence, so far, in Afghanistan,” she said.
The improved security is making it increasingly hard for insurgents to hold ground, Flournoy said.
The insurgency continues to benefit from support in Pakistan, the undersecretary said, and corruption hinders reforms. But millions more Afghans have access to education, health care and political representation, she noted. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product has increased at about 12 percent each year in 10 years, and exports are up 30 percent since the Taliban were in power, she added.
“These statistics offer perspective and, I believe, hope, … with more and more Afghans seeing the extremist worldview as nothing but a dead end,” Flournoy said.
The United States and NATO have been successful in Afghanistan because of President Barack Obama’s decision in 2009 to surge coalition personnel, then build up Afghan forces, the undersecretary said. Afghan security forces are on track to meet both quantitative and qualitative goals, and increasingly take the lead in security and humanitarian operations, Flournoy told the group. Coalition forces are on the verge of transferring more territory to Afghan control, placing half the country’s population under Afghan security, she added.
That process will continue until Afghan forces are in control of security for the whole country in 2014, Flournoy said, but that will not end U.S. involvement.
“We have no intention of abandoning Afghanistan,” Flournoy said. “We have done that before, with terrible consequences.”
As the United States draws down troops in Afghanistan, the U.S. focus increasingly will turn to economic growth, including cataloging the country’s mineral wealth and partnering with Silicon Valley, Calif., technical entrepreneurs on incubators, she said. “The [histories] of our two nations have become very intertwined,” Flournoy said. “We share the common core goal of disrupting and defeating transnational terrorist networks that emanate from that region.”