By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 – As the counterterrorism strategy is succeeding, now is not the time to abandon the fight in Afghanistan, the acting undersecretary of defense for policy told Congress today.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, James N. Miller said the United States is committed to the core objectives of denying safe haven to al-Qaida and preventing the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government.
“While we do face serious challenges, our strategy is succeeding,” Miller said. “Our counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaida have been extremely successful.”
The acting undersecretary stressed that Americans should not underestimate the progress that coalition troops -- including thousands of Americans -- have made in the country. “As a result of the surge launched in 2009, we have broken and reversed Taliban momentum in Afghanistan,” he said. “And the Afghan national security forces are increasingly capable and increasingly in the lead.”
The Afghans now are in the lead in security for more than 50 percent of the population. Sometime in 2013, the Afghan security forces will have security lead for the entire country, Miller said. “At that time, U.S. and coalition forces will be in a support role, which will take a number of forms,” he added.
U.S. and coalition forces will partner with Afghan units, Miller explained, and U.S. forces will have a smaller footprint in the country as the effort switches to an advise-and-assist role. “By the middle of 2014, the [Afghan national security forces] will be responsible for the security of Afghanistan,” he said.
Once that happens, Miller said, smaller U.S. and coalition forces will focus on counterterrorism and on training, advising and assisting Afghan forces.
The Afghanistan War has been a tough fight, and it continues, Miller acknowledged. The past several weeks -- with the Quran burning incident and the killings of 16 civilians in Kandahar province -- have been particularly difficult, he said.
“We have also been challenged in recent weeks by attacks by Afghan personnel against U.S. and coalition forces, so-called ‘green-on-blue’ attacks,” he said. “We will have to work through these incidents and challenges.”
Miller listed accomplishments in Afghanistan for the representatives. Violence is down in the country, he said. From 2010 to 2011, enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan were down 9 percent, and the trend continued this year, with attacks down a further 22 percent from 2011 levels for the same months.
In October 2008, only 140,000 Afghans were serving in the Afghan national security forces. “Today, there are approximately 330,000, and we expect to reach our goal of 352,000 … ahead of the October 2012 target date,” Miller said. Today, almost 90 percent of coalition operations in Afghanistan are carried out in partnership with the Afghan forces, and Afghan forces are in the lead for more than 40 percent of operations, he added.
Miller also discussed talks with the Afghans on the strategic partnership between the United States and Afghanistan.
“This strategic partnership will demonstrate that we learned the lessons from 1989, when our abrupt departure left our friends confused and our enemies emboldened,” he said. “Concluding our strategic partnership will send a clear signal that the United States remains willingly committed to Afghan security. Such an assurance must continue beyond our planned transition in 2014.”
Miller touched on the problem presented by safe havens for terror groups inside Pakistan.
“Pakistan has legitimate interests that must be understood and must be addressed,” he said. “Pakistan also has responsibilities.”
Most importantly, Miller added, Pakistan needs to take further steps to ensure that militant and extremist groups cannot find safe haven within its territory.