By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 30, 2013 – Afghan national security forces are in the lead throughout the country, and they continue to make progress, according to a report to Congress released today.
The discussion is part of the biannual “Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” report. Pentagon officials said the time period covered by the report generally lags present day by about three months, and that the report released today covers Oct. 1, 2012, to March 31 of this year.
The Afghans are in the lead, the report says, and they are in a position to build on the success of the International Security Assistance Force. “The progress made by [the] ISAF-led surge over the past three years has put the … [Afghan] government firmly in control of all of Afghanistan’s major cities and 34 provincial capitals and driven the insurgency into the countryside,” the report says.
Afghan forces are at 96 percent of their authorized end strength of 352,000, the report says, and these forces are conducting almost all operations independently.
Afghan forces have maintained the security gains. Before the current fighting season, the Taliban vowed to take back from Afghan forces the ground NATO forces had wrested from them. The report says this has not happened.
“The [Afghan forces have] successfully maintained security gains in areas that have transitioned to Afghan lead responsibility,” the report said.
Still, it would be a mistake to underestimate the mission ahead for Afghan forces and their allies, the report notes. The Taliban and other terrorist groups are resilient, and many continue to use the federally administered tribal areas in Pakistan as a sanctuary. These groups try to regain influence through intimidation and fear, and have been responsible for some high-profile attacks and assassinations.
ISAF officials stress they want to capitalize on the security progress and continue training and advising Afghan forces. “Of all the lines of effort, [the security line] showed the most progress,” the report says.
Force generation is largely complete, according to the report, and now maintenance and sustainment must come to the fore, which is all part of the campaign plan.
U.S., NATO and partner nations are now in an advise-and-assist role and must maintain this role if the campaign is to sustain progress, the report states. Afghan forces “will need continued assistance and combat support through the end of the ISAF mandate in December 2014; beyond then, it will still require substantial training, advising and assistance … to address ongoing shortcomings,” it says.
These shortcomings include logistics, air support, medical evacuation and artillery. Training of all kinds, but especially for officers and noncommissioned officers, remains a priority.
All of this subverts the insurgents’ propaganda, the report says. For years, the Taliban argued that they were fighting against foreign invaders. But now the Afghans are in the lead, and the enemy cannot make those claims. The Afghan people also recognize that the insurgents are responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties in the country, the report says.
Finally, the report states, the United States, NATO and partner nations have committed to Afghanistan for the long haul -- confounding another Taliban claim that America will abandon Afghanistan again.
The NATO ISAF mission continues until the end of 2014, and NATO has a follow-on mission in the wings called Resolute Support. U.S. and Afghan officials are negotiating a bilateral security agreement that will put in place the legal basis for post-2014 U.S. participation.
Other items from the report indicate:
-- Mixed cooperation with Pakistan on controlling the enemy sanctuaries in that country;
-- The Afghan elections are on track;
-- Afghan security forces are in shape to protect voters;
-- Corruption remains a problem that must be addressed; and
-- The number of insider attacks has dropped.