By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2013 – Societal and security changes in Afghanistan have shifted momentum in the country increasingly in the government’s favor, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and U.S. Army’s 3rd Corps said today.
Army Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke to Pentagon reporters via satellite from his headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The changes in Afghanistan have been stunning, he said. Milley, who first served in Afghanistan in 2001, said the country had no hope at that time. “If you flash forward to today, you’ve got a significantly … much more positive situation on your hands,” he said.
From the security standpoint, the general said, the progress has been incredible, as Afghanistan now has more than 350,000 trained and ready security personnel. These forces, “are out there fighting the fight and carrying the load every single day,” he said.
“They are capable at the tactical level, every day, day in and day out, and they’re proving it over and over and over again in this summer’s fighting season – the first summer that they've really and legitimately been in the lead,” he added.
The bottom line is the Afghan police and army has been effective in combating insurgents throughout the country, Milley said.
A few reverses took place along the way, the general said, but they were small and short-lived. Afghan security personnel are in the lead throughout the country, Milley told reporters, and are effectively protecting the vast majority of the population.
Afghan forces are planning, coordinating, synchronizing and then executing combat operations every day, Milley said. Afghans lead about 1,000 patrols a day, and just this week led 35 named operations at kandak – battalion – level or above.
U.S., NATO and partner forces do provide support – advisors, close air support, medical evacuation and logistics, Milley said.
The enemy is quantitatively and qualitatively different from the enemy he has seen in previous tours, the general said. “They go by the same names -- Haqqani, Taliban, etc. -- but their capabilities are different,” he added.
Enemy tactics are aimed at Afghan forces this fighting season, he said. The enemy relies on roadside bombs, suicide bombings, intimidation and some small-arms attacks. “What they can’t do is they can't build,” Milley said. “They can't provide an alternative form of governance. They don’t have a political agenda that’s acceptable to the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan.”
That, he said, is because of the societal changes that have occurred in Afghanistan since 2001.
One societal change is communications. Under the Taliban, communications were squashed, and Afghanistan had no free or independent outlets. “Today, there is a press corps here,” the general said. “There are 75 TV stations. There are 175 or 180 radio stations throughout this country.”
In addition to these sources, Milley said, progress is evident in the explosion of high-speed technologies and what that means to the Afghan people. Millions of Afghans have access to cellphones, high-speed Internet, text messaging and the like, said he noted. “That communication explosion in Afghanistan, in a country of 30 million, is making a difference day in and day out,” he added.
Roads are a lifeline in Afghanistan, and more than 24,000 kilometers of road have been built in the nation since 2001. Air transport also has grown, with 52 international airlines now flying in to Kabul, Milley said.
This infrastructure growth is fueled – in part – by a hothouse growth in education, the general told reporters. About 10 million Afghans are enrolled in schools. The literacy rate rose from less than 10 percent in 2001 to more than 28 percent today.
This is not good if you are a member of the Taliban and affiliated groups, Milley said.“
In this country, with this explosion of information, time is on the side of the government of Afghanistan [and] the people that are supporting a progressive Afghanistan, and not on the side of the Taliban,” he said.
Almost 70 percent of Afghanistan’s population is under 25 years of age, Milley noted, adding that those young people soon will come into positions of significant influence and power. “And I think the days of the Taliban are going to be behind them when that educated group of young people that are in existence today -- that are learning the sciences, the math, and all the social sciences, etc. -- assume positions of responsibility.”
Milley said he is optimistic about the future in Afghanistan as long as Afghan forces continue their job of providing security. “If they continue to do that next year and the year after and so on, then I think things will turn out OK in Afghanistan,” he said.