By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 – Afghanistan’s national security forces are better-equipped, better-trained and better-led than ever before, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command-South told Pentagon reporters via satellite today.
Army Maj. Gen. Robert B. Abrams said his command has worked with Afghan partners to develop an active-layered security framework, focusing on population centers in Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.
“This operational construct allows for security of the population while … developing [Afghan] capacity and capability,” Abrams said. “The contrast of then and now is constantly brought to my attention by my Afghan partners, who have witnessed the last three decades of conflict and transition in this country.”
Regional Command-South, the general said, is training, advising and assisting Afghan forces to take the security lead in their country while preparing U.S. forces and infrastructure for the scheduled 2014 drawdown.
The command’s advisory assistance to Afghan-conducted security operations will continue, Abrams said. He emphasized the focus will remain on operations that sustain security gains, allowing the Afghan government to expand governance, development and further connect with its people.
“Three years ago, our mantra was ‘shona ba shona,’ or shoulder-to-shoulder,” Abrams said. “We partnered, but we also led the [Afghan forces] to enable them to surging growth.”
Afghan forces have had the lead for security in the south since July, Abrams said, conducting almost 400 daily unilateral patrols accounting for more than 3,000 independent operations every week. That represents 82 percent of all their patrols, he added, with the rest conducted while partnered with ISAF forces.
Last year, Abrams said, the Afghan forces grew increasingly confident in their abilities, noting the Afghan army’s 205th Corps conducted six corps-level operations last year. The operations, typically lasting from 14 to 18 days, integrated the Afghan forces across the area, he said, and demonstrated that they could deliver security.
“These were full-spectrum operations intended to disrupt enemy operations and increase the security bubble over more and more Afghans living in villages, while earning the trust and confidence of the Afghan people,” Abrams said. “Significant in these corps-level operations was a focus on our part to improve and expand the Afghans’ ability to sustain themselves.”
The general also said he witnessed two recent operations in which Afghan forces pumped more than 88,000 liters of fuel to keep their fleet running over 16 days of continuous operations -- all without ISAF assistance. But that sustainability, Abrams said, must be learned and executed against the landscape of persistent insurgent activity stemming from tribal and ethnic tensions dating back thousands of years in some cases.
“It is hard to break apart the hard-core insurgents from criminal syndicate activity,” he added.
Abrams explained that Taliban fighters often share a “marriage of convenience” with criminal organizations to maintain relevance and financial support. But their efforts to establish themselves in small pockets of southern Afghanistan this year have yielded minimal success, he said.
He described the 2012 Al Farooq spring offensive campaign -- which targeted what Taliban propaganda called “foreign invaders, their advisors, their contractors and members of all associated military, intelligence and auxiliary departments” -- as a “complete failure.”
Insurgents face numerous senior leader fractures, poor financial support and not only capable Afghan forces, but also a growing number of Afghan local police who are trained, armed and equipped to defend their own villages, he said.
The Afghan national security forces, he reported, are on track to lead and secure about 97 percent of Regional Command-South’s population this summer. In the contentious districts of Zari, Panjway and Maywan today, Abrams said, “you see a blanket of Afghan flags flying over the compounds of a people that are confident in the capacity and capability of their security forces.”
Afghan forces’ independence continues to grow with planning and air mobile and intelligence fusion capabilities, the general said. “All of these capabilities provide an Afghan-sustainable solution to Afghan requirements that are delivered by Afghan hands,” he added.
The general said more than 300 instructors are spread across the Afghan national security forces in southern Afghanistan, training front-line soldiers and police officers in basic action upon the observation or location of improvised explosive devices.
“The Afghan forces’ found-and-cleared rate has dramatically improved as a result over the last two years to almost 70 percent, consistently,” Abrams said. And Afghan explosive ordnance disposal teams validated for independent operations have grown to 38 teams since June.
Three U.S. security forces assistance brigades in Regional Command-South provide 83 advisory teams with capabilities in sustainment, medical support, use-of-fires and counter-IED, the general said. Of the four infantry brigades in the Afghan army’s 205th Corps, one is rated as “independent with advisors,” while the other three are “effective with advisors,” one step below independent, and are nearing the “independent with advisor” rating, Abrams said.
“The Afghans do not stand alone, and there does remain a lot of work to be done,” the general said. “Afghan security forces are not afraid to fight, and they have proven … over the years that they are more than capable of conducting operations.”
And while training will continue across a number of capabilities, the general acknowledged one impediment to further development: the Afghan literacy rate.
“Literacy programs across our Afghan security forces, however, are proving successful, graduating new students every week,” he said.
Looking ahead, the general expressed confidence that the security provided by Afghan forces will provide the space for the political process to mature and a further connection to the Afghan people.
“The [Afghan forces] have proven themselves, and this is their time for leading security throughout Afghanistan,” Abrams said. “The road ahead still has challenges that will require Afghan solutions. They will still need a partner, and they will need our help along the way.”