By Claudette Roulo and Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – The International Security Assistance Force’s campaign in Afghanistan is on track to achieve the objectives and timeline NATO set forth at its November 2010 summit, and American surge forces are on schedule to return home by Oct. 1, a senior ISAF official said today.
“The surge has effectively covered and enabled the training and fielding of the Afghan national security force, and is an amazing outcome in and of itself,” Brig. Gen. Roger Noble of the Australian army, deputy to ISAF’s operations chief, told Pentagon reporters via satellite from Kabul, Afghanistan.
“The blood, sweat and tears of many coalition soldiers, especially many brave Americans, has directly delivered the time and space for the [Afghan forces] to stand up and assume the lead for the security of Afghanistan,” he added.
Citing “relentless pressure on the enemy” by Afghan and coalition forces, Noble said insurgents have been pushed out of major population centers, allowing 76 percent of the Afghan population to live in areas of relative calm.
“In these areas, Afghans have the lead for their own security and their own lives,” he said. “And the future of Afghanistan is, day by day, increasingly in Afghan hands, as it must be and should be.”
While insider attacks are an ongoing problem, he said, ISAF is conducting a detailed analysis of every shooter involved to identify characteristics or traits that can be used to warn coalition forces of potential risks. A major challenge is that most of the shooters are either killed in the attacks or escape, the general acknowledged.
“But that doesn't stop you from still digging into their background using multiple means and actually interviewing the ones that we detain,” he said.
Insider attacks are a long-term tactic used to erode trust, Noble said, and they increase during periods of heightened tension, as they did in February following an incident in which coalition forces inadvertently mishandled Korans.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the ISAF commander, raised the force protection level in light of the insider attacks, Noble said, noting that the force protection level changes quite often as specific threats rise and fall.
The attacks are a sign that the insurgency is struggling, Noble said.
“I've got a funny feeling that if they could get into pickup trucks and drive into Kandahar, they would,” he said. “But they can't do that. And the surge helped do that. There's now not just the coalition standing in the way of them, but [the Afghan security force] has about 350,000 who say, ‘You can't do that. You can't come back.’ And most of the people of Afghanistan don't want them back, either.”
Insurgents cause 81 percent of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the general said, through improvised explosive devices, assassinations and suicide bombings. “If your only option is to erode confidence and will through extremism and violence,” he said, “the insider threat methodology fits right into that box of things to do. … They don't have a lot of options other than to do that.”
Much work remains to be done, Noble said, and the Afghans understand that and are working to improve their vetting process and develop the infrastructure to support a professional army.
“It’s a problem that plagues them [as well],” he said. “Most years, they’ve had far more attacks than we do.”
Noble also clarified recent changes to ISAF's model for assisting Afghan forces. ISAF officials said in a written statement yesterday that media reports on the subject were inaccurate.
“General Allen has not said that we're never going to speak to an Afghan below kandak level again,” Noble said. “And that is not what's happening.” A kandak is the Afghan army’s equivalent of a battalion. Rather, he explained, Allen made adjustments due to the heightened threat around the "Innocence of Muslims" YouTube video, which has sparked protest and violence in the Muslim world.
“You would have to admit [it] has had an impact globally, … and you'd be crazy not to heighten force protection,” he said.
Allen is not preventing partnership patrols below kandak level, Noble said, but simply is reinforcing a requirement to take a considered decision about when, where and how that happens.
“We're going to take all the lessons out of [the insider attacks] and check around the whole country to make sure that there can't be a repeat, or [to] minimize the chance of repeat,” he said.
ISAF officials try to look “forward and backwards in context,” he added, trying to keep day-to-day activity in perspective and to remain on track for Afghanistan’s security forces to be responsible for security throughout their country by the end 2014, the goal set at NATO’s 2011 summit.
“Being in Afghanistan, every day throws up a different challenge, and the enemy is nothing if not innovative and committed,” Noble said. “So when we get hit with the insider threat problem or any new tactics, we'll leave no stone unturned to try and keep our people safe. We're not going to shy away from our commitment to be successful in the campaign.”