By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 1, 2012 – Afghan and NATO forces are building on the progress made in Afghanistan, but problems -- specifically with safe havens in Pakistan and with endemic corruption -- still plague efforts in the country, senior defense and diplomatic officials said today.
The officials, speaking on background, briefed reporters about the contents of a report delivered to Congress last night quantifying the progress toward security and stability in Afghanistan. The report covers the six-month period ending March 31.
The surge is working, the report said, and last year saw the first year-over-year decline in enemy-initiated attacks in the past five years. This decline is the most significant marker in the past year, the defense official said, adding that Afghan forces and the International Security Assistance Force have wrested the momentum from the enemy and are building on progress made in 2011.
Enemy-initiated attacks decreased 9 percent in 2011, compared to 2010. So far this year, enemy-initiated attacks are down 16 percent from the same period of 2011.
The beneficiary of the time bought by the U.S. and NATO surge are the members of the Afghan police and army, the official said. The U.S. and NATO forces provided security during the surge, the official added, which enabled the recruitment and training of additional Afghan security force members.
Today, Afghan security forces are responsible for security of about 50 percent of the population of the country. Afghans partner with ISAF forces on more than 90 percent of operations, and are in the lead in more than 40 percent of those operations, the official added.
Afghan combat readiness has increased as well. In September 2011, only one Afghan army kandak -- a battalion-size unit -- was rated as “independent with advisors.” At the end of March, 13 Afghan army kandaks and 39 Afghan National Police units have this rating.
“The Afghan security forces continue to improve, not just in numbers, but also in quality,” the senior defense official said. “That’s a process that continues.”
Some worrisome areas still exist, but the overall trend is very positive, the defense official told reporters.
“Challenges remain,” he said. “The most important of those challenges, of course, remains the sanctuaries in Pakistan and the ability of the Taliban to refit, regroup and rearm there.”
The Taliban and the Haqqani network use areas in Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas to attack Afghan and NATO troops. Afghan and NATO leaders continue to urge Pakistan to address this problem.
“It’s Pakistan’s duty as a responsible international country to control all violence that emanates from its borders into other areas,” the senior defense official said. “And we continue to urge them to do so.”
NATO’s campaign plan is designed to work at reducing the ability of the Taliban and the Haqqani network to infiltrate over the border. Even with the coordinated attack in and around Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul last month, far fewer complex attacks are taking place than in previous years, the official said.
“That means that the interdiction effort that we’re putting in place … with our Afghan army, police and intelligence [partners] is showing increasing success,” he added. “It’s not perfect, so we’re going to have to continue to work to shield Afghanistan and work to build the capacity of the Afghans to shield them from these things, from these attacks, but I think we will continue the efforts as well with Pakistan.”
Inside Afghanistan, government weakness is a huge problem, said the report and a senior State Department official, also speaking on background. The report says widespread corruption, a lack of qualified people and limited control by federal or provincial officials are impeding progress.
“Setbacks in governance and development continue to slow the reinforcement of security gains and threaten the legitimacy and long-term viability of the Afghan government,” the report states.
The United States looks carefully at the capacity of the Afghan government, the State Department official said.
“There are several ministries that are doing well in that regard; there are several ministries that are not doing well,” the official added. “And the donor community focuses on being sure that the money that goes into Afghanistan is used in programs with the ministries that do work well, and we specifically take it away from those that don’t.”
The ministries of local governments, mines and finance are among those that are doing well, the official said, adding that the transportation ministry still has problems.