By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 – Recent incidents have been deplorable, but they will not stand in the way of accomplishing goals in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force commander said here.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen also said the incidents do not represent the actions of the vast majority of U.S. military personnel who have served in Afghanistan.
Three incidents have been lumped together, the general said: desecration of corpses, the accidental burning of Qurans and the murder of 16 Afghans in Kandahar province. “It’s important to understand that while tragic, these few incidents do not represent who we are,” Allen said during an interview. “The Afghan people know that, the Afghan government knows that, and more importantly, the Afghan national security forces know who we are.”
Allen emphasized that U.S. and Afghan forces have been working together for years, and many Afghans and Americans have close working relationships.
“We have a sound campaign plan that is developed jointly by the Afghan national security forces and the International Security Assistance Force,” he said. “It is a good plan and we are executing that plan. I think we can accomplish our objectives, without question.”
It is important to remember that considerable progress has taken place in Afghanistan, Allen said. “Security in many places in Afghanistan is near normal,” he added, citing the city of Herat as a prime example of a place “on a very positive trajectory.”
The civil government, the Italian-led ISAF forces, the Afghan national security forces and the population as a whole are combining to create a peaceful, stable area in and around Herat, where economic progress provides opportunities, the general said.
The Afghan capital of Kabul is jammed with cars and is known for the “hustle and bustle of a city where the people are going about their way on a moment-to-moment basis free from the oppression of the Taliban, free from the threat of terrorist attack,” he said.
Kabul is virtually incident-free, Allen said, and Afghan forces provide security for the region. Still, he acknowledged, he taps on wood when he talks of security, because “it is the great ambition of the Taliban to terrorize the Afghan people, to cause fear and disruption in their daily lives.”
Afghan forces are the difference, Allen said. “In places like Herat, in Kabul, in the south in Kandahar and the Helmand River Valley, the [Afghan forces] have created an environment of security by which the Afghan people can now, in many places, go about their normal daily lives,” the general said.
Afghan forces already protect more than 50 percent of the Afghan people, and that number will grow in the months ahead. NATO nations, contributing countries and Afghan leaders agreed to the transition process at NATO’s November 2010 summit in Lisbon, Portugal. Two “tranches” of areas have transitioned to Afghan security control already, Allen noted. “We are working on a third tranche now,” he said. “We’ll have the fourth by the end of the year, and a fifth by the end of the summer of 2013.”
Addressing war-weariness among Americans for the conflict in Afghanistan, Allen said people must remember why U.S. forces are there.
“We should remember why we’re in Afghanistan, which was 9/11,” he said. “On the 11th of September 2001, more than 3,000 people were killed by terrorist attacks on the homeland of the United States. Those attacks were planned and ultimately executed out of Kandahar by al-Qaida, sheltered by the Taliban.”
At the time, Kandahar was a dying city totally under the thumb of religious radicals who stoned people to death for singing in the street and refused medical care to women. Today, Allen said, it is a bustling city where security is measurable and led by the Afghan national forces.
No further attacks on the United States have taken place since 9/11, Allen noted. “The effects of our forces over this period of time has kept the United States safe, kept the Western world safe, kept Afghanistan safe,” he said, “and it has expelled al-Qaida largely from Afghanistan, and it is now in fact, reducing the ability of the Taliban to terrorize Afghan citizens and [has] expelled them from the population.”
This is significant progress, the general said, noting the American people “should be tremendously proud of their sons and daughters who have fought this war now for going on 11 years.”
More than 800,000 Americans have deployed to Afghanistan since the war began. With very few exceptions, Allen said, these young service members “have upheld the standards of this country.”
“While there have been some moments of tragedy and some actions of very few that have complicated the campaign and our objectives, I would say the thousands and thousands of American young men and women who passed through Afghanistan have demonstrated respect for Islam and respect for the Afghan people,” the general said. They have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with the Afghans for the freedom of the country, he added.
“That’s why we’re there,” he said. “And if Afghanistan becomes safe, America becomes safer. It’s a direct-line relationship, and we should never forget that.”