By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Jan. 23, 2014 – International Security Assistance Force personnel are making a difference in Afghanistan as the NATO mission there enters its final year, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said here yesterday.
Dunford commands ISAF, which includes U.S. forces. He and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are attending the 170th NATO Chiefs of Defense meeting at NATO headquarters here.
Dunford said his troops are highly motivated as they perform a tough mission under arduous conditions.
“One of the campaign imperatives that I have is the spirit, discipline and the will of the force, which I don’t take for granted,” Dunford said. “I have not seen any indication that the uncertainty of the political environment has affected our guys in what they do every day. In fact, I’m astounded at how little impact that has.”
The troops are focused on getting done what needs to get done, he said.
There are about 58,000 troops in Afghanistan today from the 28 NATO nations and 22 partner countries. About 36,000 of those troops are American. Afghan security forces are in the lead throughout the country, with NATO personnel training and advising the Afghan military and police.
The NATO service members draw their strength from what they have accomplished with the Afghan forces, Dunford said. Personnel who have served in Afghanistan for multiple tours can see the increase in Afghan capabilities and capacity, the general said.
“The force as a whole believes they are making a difference with the Afghans and they are increasingly proud of the Afghan forces’ performance,” he said.
He said the way the Afghans handled security for November’s loya jirga was one example of the progress made. The assembly was in Kabul with Afghan army and police working together to provide security for more than 3,000 delegates. The loya jirga was a terrorist target.
Yet the Afghans handled the security and there were no incidents. “Our guys see that and know they are making a difference,” Dunford said.
Afghan special operations forces are making similar strides. Dunford spoke of Afghan-planned, Afghan-manned and Afghan-led missions now being conducted routinely.
“Those glimmers of capability development mean a lot to our guys,” he said.
Dunford also credits the senior enlisted leaders in the country with the high morale.
“You can’t be a strong, silent type at this point in the campaign,” he said. “You’ve got to be talking to people every day. They have to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it.”
Dunford tells service members to stay focused on their Afghan counterparts and the missions they are assigned to do, “and we will take care of that political space.”
He said service members are adamant about making it matter, adding that personnel around the country want the sacrifices to count.
“What I tell them is at the end of this year and into the next mission we have got to look at the moms and dads who have lost sons and daughters, and we have to look at our buddies that came home a little different than when they deployed -- we’ve got to look them in the eyes and say, ‘We closed the deal.’ We made it matter,” he said. “And that also keeps them going.”