By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2013 – Afghan security forces are succeeding in the task of securing their people and their nation, and now the Afghan people are counting on coalition help to navigate the next transition, a senior defense official told a Senate panel today.
Dr. Peter R. Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about the envisaged situation in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, when the International Security Assistance Force will end its mission in the country.
“Afghanistan is going through a democratic transition that is unprecedented in that country,” Lavoy told the panel, “… so the democratic impulse is very strong and we need to do everything we can to support it and provide the confidence that tomorrow will be better than today … in Afghanistan.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will not run in the April 2014 election, the assistant secretary said.
“The outcome of this election is not clear to anyone and we are doing … everything we can to ensure a successful, fair, free and representative election, but there is uncertainty,” he said.
Lavoy said the Afghan army and police have performed with remarkable success.
“Afghan forces now plan and conduct the overwhelming majority of combat operations and also are taking the vast majority of casualties,” he said. “… Despite heavy fighting, the Afghans are holding the gains of recent years and the Taliban must come to grips with the fact that they cannot defeat the Afghan national security forces militarily.”
The Afghans are encountering resistance and taking many casualties, Lavoy said -- up to 400 soldiers and police every month, he said.
“But they’re standing up to that resistance. They are an increasingly professional force that is getting the job done and doing a better job each and every day,” he added.
Yet, there are gaps in Afghan capabilities, he added. ISAF provides critical support and assistance, he said, but the largest gaps are at the ministerial level -- at the ministries of Defense and Interior that support the army and police.
“They need a human capital strategy,” Lavoy said. “They need to manage contracts, payrolls, food, fuel, other logistics, planning, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, et cetera.”
The United States is transitioning in Afghanistan, not leaving, the assistant secretary added.
“We are on track to bring the ISAF mission to a close by the end of 2014 and transition to Operation Resolute Support, a new train, advise and assist mission under a NATO umbrella,” Lavoy said.
The United States also plans to conduct a narrowly focused counterterrorism mission, he said.
“The United States and Afghanistan are already negotiating a bilateral security agreement to provide the necessary framework to support the presence of U.S. forces to accomplish these missions,” he said. “NATO is also preparing to negotiate such a framework with Afghanistan.”
The United States has not decided on the size of the post-2014 military presence, Lavoy added, but the ultimate U.S. presence will be guided by several factors, including the following:
- Progress toward a core goal of defeating al-Qaida in the region;
- The potential for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban;
- Continued progress with the Afghan national security forces;
- Afghanistan's political transition centered on the elections in April 2014;
- The regional setting; and
- Concluding the U.S.-Afghanistan bilateral security agreement in the NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement.
“This is a critical time for our shared effort in Afghanistan,” Lavoy said. “After more than a decade of war and tremendous sacrifices by the people of the United States, our coalition partners and Afghans, we can see the prospect for peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
Strategically the mission is successful with the Afghan security forces in the lead, he added, but there are questions about the future.
“Whether you talk to Americans or especially to Afghans,” Lavoy observed, “there will be questions and uncertainties about what happens in the future.”