By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan, June 6, 2011 - The population centers of Afghanistan's Helmand and Kandahar provinces and Spin Bolduk on the Pakistan border constitute key areas in the fight against the Taliban this year, the commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command said here today.
Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the Taliban and its terrorist allies are trying to return to the area, which coalition and Afghan troops wrested from them over the past year.
"We've been able to degrade and attrit their leaders and their command and control, which is obviously critical to what they are doing," the general said. Over the past year, he added, coalition and Afghan forces also have degraded Taliban support bases.
But the Taliban are "going to go all-out to reverse the losses they've had in the past year," the general said.
The Taliban are going after the gains the coalition has made, Rodriguez said, noting the Taliban will try to kill Afghan tribal and government leaders, and attack Afghan security forces.
"We have to continue those efforts to get the irreversible momentum that we need and the Afghans' desire [to maintain gains made] in the south so we can shift our main effort back to the east," Rodriguez said. The east is a far more complex area because of the mixture of tribes that live there, the mountainous terrain and long-established ties over the Pakistani border, he explained.
All this is occurring as coalition forces prepare to draw down. The agreement signed at NATO's November summit in Lisbon, Portugal, calls for the Afghan government to have security control of the country by the end of 2014.
"As we look forward to drawing down, we have to make those good decisions and judgments about how to draw down and get more Afghans in the lead while we still continue the momentum forward," Rodriguez said.
Though it's a tall order to hold the territory in the south, disrupt the Taliban in the east and draw down coalition forces, it can be done because of the increased numbers and capabilities of Afghan forces, the general said. The coalition's surge in Afghanistan was 40,000 more soldiers, 30,000 of them American. "The other part that's not focused on ... is there are more than 94,000 Afghan forces," he noted.
At some point, the general said, momentum for security will be irreversible. Communities are seeing the benefits to being allied with the Afghan government. Governance and economic development are coming to the areas. Roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure improvements mean buildings jobs and set the stage for long-term prosperity, Rodriguez said.
Once the irreversible momentum is in place in the south, the coalition can shift its main effort to the eastern part of the country, he said.
"It's all conditions-based," the general added. "It does not mean that you are shifting forces. There are a lot of things that go into the main effort: the prioritization of the [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], the prioritization of mobile Afghan forces --national civil order police, the commandos, and so on."
And Afghan forces are getting better. Afghan units are arriving at their areas better trained from the start, Rodriguez said, and then they partner with coalition forces. As time goes by, the Afghan forces -- be they police or army -- need less and less direct supervision and guidance, the general said. And as the army and police get stronger, he added, they get better recruits.
Afghan forces still need help to operate, he acknowledged, with the major shortages being command and control, intelligence integration, logistics, medical evacuation and high-end special operations forces.
Coalition commanders want more Afghan units, the general said.
"They are getting better leaders all the time, they are getting better numbers, and [coalition commanders] know the overall plan is to work themselves out of a job here," he said.
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