By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2012 – Spring and summer will offer “unique operational conditions” in Afghanistan as the security transition there gains momentum, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said here yesterday.
In remarks at the Brookings Institution, Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen said the U.S. force will return to a pre-surge level of about 68,000 by the end of September, while more Afghan army and police units move into the lead security role.
At the same time, he noted, the main counterinsurgency effort will begin to shift from the southern provinces to the east, which offers “a different kind of insurgency.”
“We had some pretty good success last year in the south, in particular in Kandahar and in the central Helmand River Valley,” the general said. “We'll be seeking to leverage that success this year by consolidating our hold in the south while we'll continue to employ our combat power in the east -- in a counterinsurgent mode, obviously -- to take care of the insurgency as it has continued to boil in the east.”
The Haqqani network is most active in the eastern provinces along the Pakistan border, while insurgents in the south have primarily come from the Quetta Shura Taliban. Allen said 2011 operations against the Haqqani network, along with information gathered from captured senior members of the group, indicate they will attempt high-profile suicide attacks and assassinations, some inside the Afghan capital of Kabul.
“We're going to spend a good bit of time concentrating on that network this coming spring and summer,” he said.
According to a 2012 report titled, “The Haqqani Network: A Strategic Threat” by the nonpartisan public policy research organization Institute for the Study of War, the group threatens the enduring stability of the Afghan state and U.S. national security interests in the region.
“The Haqqanis are currently Afghanistan’s most capable and potent insurgent group, and they continue to maintain close operational and strategic ties with al-Qaida and their affiliates. These ties will likely deepen in the future,” the report’s authors state.
The report says the counterinsurgency campaign has not significantly weakened the Haqqanis’ military capabilities, as it has those of the Quetta Shura Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
The report’s authors wrote that the Haqqani network “has increased its operational reach and jihadist credentials over the past several years … [and] has expanded its reach toward the Quetta Shura Taliban’s historical strongholds in southern Afghanistan, the areas surrounding Kabul, [and] the Afghan north.”
Allen said the 2012 Afghan-ISAF campaign plan for Regional Command East will increase Afghan troop strength in provinces along the border, bolster Afghan local police, village stability and special operations forces in the region, and provide a “greater density” of U.S. forces partnering with their Afghan counterparts.
“The combination of all of that, we anticipate, will give us a good launching pad for the operations in RC East this coming summer and in the fall, and then into next year,” the general said.
That region, he added, is where “the fight will probably be the longest in this insurgency and will be the most complicated.”
Allen said another key goal for 2012 is extending pavement of Afghanistan’s “ring road” to link key areas.
“It is an explicit part of the campaign,” he said, to provide a paved route from the Kabul security zone to Kandahar so commerce can open up between the two population centers.
Meanwhile, as Afghanistan’s infrastructure grows, the general said, its army and police forces are gaining acceptance -- and therefore are extending the reach of government -- among their fellow citizens.
Allen acknowledged that Afghan forces need good leaders as they increasingly take over security responsibility in their nation. NATO and the Afghan government have agreed that transition will be complete by the end of 2014. Afghanistan’s military academy, noncommissioned officer courses and military branch schools all teach leadership, he said, and ISAF and Afghan officials are working together to identify and address incompetent or corrupt Afghan commanders.
“A commander who is able to … bring his staff together to go through the process of anticipating, planning and executing an operation, that is … the commander of the future,” Allen said.
Helping Afghan forces build and maintain the capabilities they will need to defend and protect their nation, he said, means “getting after” unfit leaders, reinforcing good leaders, and ensuring “a complementary and aggressive institutional development” of leaders from the small-unit to senior command levels.
Allen said he will wait for results from the upcoming operations before he makes any further recommendations on U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, he added, Afghanistan and the United States are making progress toward a strategic partnership agreement, which would outline the two nations’ long-term cooperation.
“It would be good to have it done by [the Chicago NATO summit in May], where the heads of state of the 50 ISAF nations will gather together,” he said. Many of those nations have concluded their own bilateral agreements with the Afghans, and NATO intends to have a separate strategic partnership with Afghanistan, he noted.
“It would be, I think, a really important signal both to the international community, to all of ISAF and certainly to Afghanistan if that other key strategic partnership is concluded by then as well,” Allen added.