The New Year is unfolding and I’m thinking about Afghanistan. The good news is that we are making significant progress, especially in the security sector. The numbers of men and women killed in action among the coalition forces, an important metric, are down 20% from last year. But there are many challenges ahead.
I think there are three keys to our success in the security sector, where NATO and the International Coalition have the largest share of the work to do.
The first is something we all talk about in a military context: unity of effort. Working closely with my good friend and Naval Academy classmate, General John Allen, we have agreed to put plenty of focus on that this year. From a NATO and International perspective, our goal is to achieve a true sense of “in together, out together” among the 50 troop contributing nations.
When I attended the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December, with 100 nations and international organizations represented, the theme of long-term commitment was evident. In the military sphere, that means we have to pull together smoothly on the oars as we all downsize the number of coalition troops over this coming year. For example, the US will withdraw another 23,000 in 2012 and this is on top of the 10,000 who redeployed in 2011.
Which brings us to the second key: transition to Afghan Security lead. The Afghan security forces have assumed the lead responsibility for security in districts and provinces holding nearly 50% of the population of Afghanistan. This is possible due to the capability and professional development of more than 310,000 Afghan soldiers, airmen, and policemen and women. Today, the Afghan security forces are taking the vast majority of casualties in the fight, as well as training over 70% of the new recruits.
I’m confident we’ll continue to support our Afghan brothers and sisters in uniform as they move forward with taking responsibility for their own security, with a plan to conclude the transition by 2014. At the Chicago NATO / ISAF summit, I have confidence the international community will commit to continuing its support to the Afghan security forces, giving lie to the Taliban’s oft-repeated, but unfulfilled promise that we are soon “leaving forever.”
The third key is simple: pressuring the insurgents. We’ve made a lot of progress, and it is reflected in the attitudes of the Afghan people. For example, the recent Asia Society annual poll of the people of Afghanistan concluded that over 85% of Afghans approve of their Army and over 75% of their Police forces — strong improvements over the past five years. Likewise, nearly 3,000 insurgents have recently renounced violence and reintegrated back into Afghan society under the auspices of the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program.
We are seeing great strides on the battlefield and those who continue to fight against the Afghan Government and the people have a choice, end your violent, extremist ways and work alongside all Afghans for a peaceful and more prosperous 2012 or chose to fight and face unrelenting pressure. We are continually capturing or killing many of their battlefield leaders, and it is my belief that their morale is decreasing and their tactics failing.
Are there significant challenges ahead? Of course. Corruption, governance, and cross-border difficulties will persist. The economy, while enjoying significant growth over the past five years, will come under pressure as the international coalition begins to reposture significant forces over the next several years.
Yet if we focus on the keys to security — unity of effort, transition to Afghan lead, and pressuring the insurgency a stable, peaceful and prosperous pathway for the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan is possible — I believe we’ll continue to see progress in 2012. Ring in the New Year.
There are no comments yet. Why not be the first to speak your mind.