By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – The message from coalition commanders in Afghanistan is loud and clear that the campaign is “in a good place right now,” the deputy commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said today.
Lt. Gen. Adrian J. Bradshaw of the British army told Pentagon reporters today via video link from Kabul that Afghan forces are gaining depth, and their partnered operations with ISAF troops in 2011 and this year have reversed Taliban and Haqqani network momentum.
“Across the theater, [we’ve seen] Afghan national security forces increasing in strength, capability and confidence,” Bradshaw said. Meanwhile, he added, coalition commanders get reliable reporting of Taliban commanders feeling under pressure with lack of weapons, equipment and money.
Afghan army and police forces are coordinating with civil authorities to plan, lead and carry out sophisticated, brigade-level operations, the general said.
“ISAF troops [are] more and more … providing advice and assistance, but letting the Afghans get to grips with the major combat operations,” he said. “They have surprised us, and I think they've surprised themselves, with how well they've performed in a whole range of different sorts of operations across the theater.”
Bradshaw said he has witnessed partnered operations teaming Afghan and Italian, U.S. and British forces over recent weeks. In all cases, he added, he’s seen “high morale, an awareness of the threat, but a confidence that we are on track.”
The strategic agreement President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed last week, leading up to NATO’s summit in Chicago later this month, enhances Afghan confidence that the coalition will support security efforts beyond 2014, the general said.
“It sets a very good baseline for the Chicago conference, where we hope and expect that nations will come forward and commit funding to the Afghan forces for beyond 2014,” Bradshaw said. “And so it's a major achievement.”
Rebuilding the security relationship with Pakistan is important to future Afghan security, the general noted.
“We've got a common interest in addressing the terrorist insurgent problem that crosses the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” he said. NATO and Pakistani officials are in talks, Bradshaw added, “and things are moving in the right direction there.”
Pakistan is also important to the long-term defeat of the Taliban, he said.
“As long as [insurgents] can operate with relative impunity from sanctuaries outside the country, it's quite difficult to defeat them militarily,” he said. “I would argue that in a counterinsurgency campaign, it's got to be a combination of military, economic, political and other measures anyway to effect a total elimination of this problem.”
The deputy commander said coalition and Afghan leaders take very seriously the issue of “green on blue” incidents, in which Afghan army and police attack and sometimes kill coalition members. Bradshaw said the number of attacks is small, considering the Afghan force has grown to a third of a million very rapidly in recent years. “Nevertheless,” he added, “we treat every one with extreme seriousness, and I can tell you that our Afghan partners do as well.”
Afghan commanders are aggressively pursuing green-on-blue countermeasures, including embedding counterintelligence operatives down to the battalion level, where they are carrying out rigorous counterintelligence operations, the general said. Commanders also regularly vet new recruits and their established troops, he added.
“The commander of the Afghan National Army has told his people who have family in Pakistan that they need to get their families into country,” he said, “and that his commanders are to take note of any possible linkages with insurgents [so they know] if people have come under pressure when they go on leave. And if there are doubts, … then they're asked to leave the service,” he added.
Overall, the campaign in Afghanistan aims to keep “ruthless pressure” on insurgents, Bradshaw said.
“We've got plenty of work still to do,” he acknowledged. “We've got to continue building the capability, the institutional depth, I would say, of the Afghan national security forces.”
Coalition leaders believe Afghan forces will take on the counterinsurgency mission by the end of 2014 and execute it to good effect, the general said.
“By that time, we expect to have considerably enhanced their logistics capabilities, their leadership, their capabilities across a range of areas which are being built right now,” Bradshaw added. “We have great confidence that they'll be able to take on the job and maintain security for the government of Afghanistan.”