Report: Coalition, Afghans Making 'Tangible Progress'

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2011 - The coalition and its Afghan partners have made "tangible progress" in Afghanistan over the past six months in not only arresting enemy momentum, but also reversing it in many key areas, a senior defense official said here today.

"We've wrested away areas the insurgents have had under control for years," the official said, speaking on background on the Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan. Congress mandates the report.

The report covers the past six months and paints a far different picture of the country than the first report in January 2009. Then, the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating. Taliban and other insurgent groups operated shadow governments across many provinces. Levels of violence were on the rise and insurgents operated not only from safe havens in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, but also from safe havens in Afghanistan -- most notably in and around Kandahar, the nation's second-largest city.

The official said the "narrative arc" since the first report shows that "there was a real problem, the administration's reviews identified that and the means necessary to reverse that, and not just reverse it, but push it back. Over the last year, as we put those forces into place, the situation on the ground is fundamentally changing."

The change has to be measured over the long run, the official said. It is not a dramatic switch from bad to good, but the gradual improvement due to thousands of small acts to improve security. Insurgents will continue to launch "spectacular" terrorist attacks to reverse the progress, the official said. But those attacks, while horrible, have not stopped progress in the country.

"You need to look at the entire campaign, you need to look at the entire effort and, most importantly, you need to look at the results," the official said.

However, the official said, progress in Afghanistan is still fragile and reversible.

"There are going to be tough days ahead," he said.

The biggest game-changers in Afghanistan are the result of the U.S. and NATO troop surge into the country and the surge in Afghan forces in numbers and capabilities, the official said.

The report also highlights the growing capabilities of Afghan security forces. The Afghan police still lag the army in capabilities, but both are making progress. Remaining desired improvements for Afghan security forces include what the U.S. military calls combat service and combat service support capabilities -- medical, logistics, transportation, command and control and the like. There is a lack of trainers for these specialized areas, the official said, but there have been commitments for more trainers for these areas.

Special efforts are being made to train Afghan recruits to read and write, the official said. The literacy rate in Afghanistan overall is set at 43 percent for men and under 13 percent for women. Afghan recruits often reenlist to continue this training, the official added. Also, schools established in 2002 and 2003 are now graduating young literate Afghans.

Progress also needs to continue in governance and the economy in Afghanistan. Military forces can provide security, but what the country needs is "the follow-on ability of governance, rule of law, the structures that need to be in place after the clearing operations are completed," the official said.

There is a lot of concentration on building these capabilities, the official said, but so much needs to be done that the job will be difficult.

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