By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2014 – In the final days of the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, the Afghan national security forces are winning and the long coalition effort is taking hold, the commander of ISAF Joint Command said today.
In a teleconference with Pentagon reporters from his headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said that despite these gains, progress remains to be made.
The Afghan national security forces include Afghanistan’s armed forces, national police, border police, local police and members of the National Directorate of Security.
Most Trusted Government Organization
“They are the most trusted government organization in Afghanistan,” Anderson said. “They are trying to provide time and space for this society to grow and reduce the insurgency.”
He called the Afghan national security forces a hugely capable fighting force that has been holding its ground against the enemy.
Afghan forces number about 352,000 -- 156,000 army troops and 155,000 police. Anderson said together they secured the election process and maintained a steady operational tempo throughout the fighting season. The insurgents had minimal effect on the elections, with 761 attacks but only 174 that were damaging, he added.
“Throughout the entire election process, the ordered recount and the fighting season,” the general added, “[ISAF Joint Command has] been in the close air support business, the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance business, the quick-reaction-force business, and helping with command and control, advisors and some sustainment support.”
Agreements Were Major Setback for Insurgents
The recent signings of a bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States and a NATO status of forces agreement were a major setback for the insurgents, Anderson said. Afghan forces have been in the lead all year, the Taliban have failed to achieve tactical superiority over them, and Taliban-initiated attacks are down this year from around 24,000 to 18,000, the general told reporters.
“The ANSF has sustained about a 6.5 percent increase in casualties this year, [with] 4,634 this year versus 4,350 killed in action last year,” he said, adding that the high number of casualties, combined with attrition among army and police forces, is not sustainable in the long term.
“Their first priority right now is to get their recruiting back up and to … get their manning document filled. … The police are about 89 percent, and the army is about 81 percent filled,” Anderson said.
“They do need to decrease their casualty rate,” the general said, adding that more capable Afghan medical and casualty evacuation will help.
Full Responsibility for Medical, Casualty Evacuation
The general said the Afghans perform 88 percent of all medical and casualty evacuation through a combination of air and ground transportation. ISAF has provided very limited support, especially from summer onward, and Afghanistan now has full responsibility, he said.
In the final days of the ISAF mission, Anderson said, the coalition’s efforts over the years have not been in vain.
“Education, a free press, telecommunications -- all are going very well,” he added. “We can see the benefits of this new democratically elected government taking shape. It is very optimistic here. There is more capability. There is more accountability.”
The literacy rate in Afghanistan is now 30 percent, he said, up from 12 percent during Taliban rule. And 7.9 million children attend primary and secondary schools, including more girls.
“Internet, cell phone use, all these things continue to make a difference here,” the general added.
Troop Numbers Decline as Transition Approaches
In the transition from the ISAF mission to the Resolute Support mission, which begins Jan. 1, 54,000 service members from 48 nations were in Afghanistan when Anderson took command in January. Today, there are 38,000 soldiers from 44 nations, and 27,000 of the service members are American, he said.
“We'll get down to 12,500 service members here by the end of the year, which will be the 9,800-troop U.S. commitment. And we expect about 26 other nations to provide forces as well,” the general said. “This will be a mix of advisors, force-protection soldiers and enabler providers like close air support [for force protection] and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
From 86 bases in January, ISAF is down to 26, Anderson said. “We shut one more down next week, and we're done,” he added.
ISAF also has been retrograding, redeploying, destroying and transferring equipment to the Afghan forces, he said, reducing 21,000 pieces of rolling stock and about 1.7 million pieces of nonrolling stock, and retrograding and divesting others.
On foreign excess personal property -- a process the U.S. government uses to transfer unneeded property permanently to a foreign government –- ISAF has transferred about $620 million worth of equipment, the general said.
No More ISAF Regional Commands
“We're on a glide path to get to 31 December for Resolute Support,” Anderson said, “and as of yesterday we transitioned our last regional command to a train-advise-assist command in the east, so we no longer have regional commands here in Afghanistan.”
Next month, ISAF Joint Command will merge into ISAF, and then ISAF will take over operational control of all ground forces, Anderson said, but the mission is not complete.
“What Resolute Support is all about is trying to get the Afghans above the tactical level to the operational and strategic levels,” he explained. “The advisors will focus on the ministerial and institutional levels to work systems and processes, and professionalize the force.”
Efforts Focus on Essential Functions
He said the efforts are focused along eight essential functions, everything from planning, programming, budgeting and execution to sustainment and planning. Keys to success will be coordination among the army, the police and the National Directorate of Security, he said, “working their intelligence systems and processes, and the continued development of the Afghan air force.”
Strategic issues that remain include forecasting logistical requirements and the budgeting process, he said.
“The Afghans are thankful for our efforts and support,” the general said. “They're getting after it. They're doing very, very well tactically. Next year, the challenges will focus on what I just described, but it's also going to be a year of great opportunity.”