By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 18, 2013 – Though setbacks may happen, real progress is taking place in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels today.
In a news conference at NATO headquarters, Rasmussen discussed a recent trip to Afghanistan’s Helmand province, once a Taliban stronghold, to visit International Security Assistance Force service members and meet with Afghan officials.
Rasmussen said he saw a significant shift from NATO control and operations to Afghan forces in charge of security.
“The Afghan army and police are in charge of three quarters of the province,” he added. “They are already conducting nearly all the security operations. ISAF’s role has already shifted to training, advising and assisting.”
Rasmussen stressed that in places such as Helmand, Afghan forces “are doing the job.”
Now, the challenge for NATO and partner nations shifts from doing the mission to sustaining the effort, he said. “That means providing the training they need in leadership,” he told reporters. “That means specialized skills such as logistics, management and maintenance.”
The ISAF mission ends at the end of 2014, and Rasmussen acknowledged that the mission will not be easy. “There will be hard fighting. There will be casualties, and there may be setbacks,” he said. “But already Afghanistan’s forces are stronger than they have been at any other moment in history. They will continue to grow stronger, more effective and more experienced. And we are determined to support them through 2014 and beyond.”
Security is just one aspect of progress in the country, he noted. Local governments are taking hold in Helmand, the secretary general said, and elected district councils are investing funds in development.
“This is the Afghan people’s chance to take control of their security and to take control of their destiny,” he added. “I believe, and the Afghans with whom I spoke believe, that this is a chance which they must seize.”
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, Rasmussen said, he met with young Afghans who are committed to a democratic and stable country.
“A new generation has emerged in Afghanistan,” he said. “This young generation wants a new way of life, not a return to the dark days of the past. The Afghan people have tasted freedom and seen what progress can bring. In the future, the enemies of Afghanistan must not only fight a strong Afghan army, they will also have to fight the aspirations of the Afghan people toward freedom, peace and prosperity.”