NATO commander insists Afghan security has improved
The NATO-led coalition commander in Afghanistan has said that Afghan and foreign forces have been able to achieve a permanent improvement in security - which now needs to sustain over the long-term, dpa reported.
"The accomplishment of the surge and the continued growth of the ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) has in fact achieved a permanent improvement in the security," General John Allen said Saturday in an exclusive interview with the German Press Agency dpa.
"It's got to be sustainable though over the long-term and that of course is what we are seeking to achieve," he said, adding that the trend for a downward spiral in progress reported by his predecessors has been reversed.
"I don't like to use the word defeat or those kinds of absolute terms but the trending is going in the right direction," he said.
"In a counter-insurgency campaign, it is intended to buy time for the governance and economic development to stand up," the American general said, who took over the helm as the head of military offensive in July.
"And I think we have created a condition for that to occur."
A great number of the population in the volatile south are now able to live a normal life, Allen said. "And it is the south where this insurgency began."
He said much of the Taliban success in the past was due to their "access to the population" and "ability to emerge from the population", which has changed now dramatically.
In many of the districts in the south which the Taliban used to control, Allen said the insurgents now face a "great deal of difficulty getting back into the population".
However, while the Taliban have left their strongholds in some southern provinces, they have also conducted frequent complex and coordinated attacks.
Lately, even the capital, Kabul, has seen a spate of brazen attacks, including one against Allen's headquarters and the US Embassy - which are in the same area - in September.
However, Allen tried to downplay the assault, saying the Kabul attacks constitute "less than one per cent of all enemy initiated attacks" across the country.
In contrast, the United Nations have said violence and security incidents in the first eight months of 2011 increased by 39 per cent - a sharp contrast to what Allen and his office has been saying. But he said the numbers differ because the measurement is different.
"They measure different aspects of (the) security environment here ... They are not necessarily in conflict," he said.
On Saturday, the Loya Jirga -a tribal elders meeting in Kabul - asked US and NATO to stop night raids, a thorny issue between the Afghan president and the leaders of the foreign forces.
Allen said he is "committed to support the Afghanisation of night operations".
"The issue, really, has been a discussion of Afghanisation of those capabilities, as opposed to precisely stop what ISAF might be doing," he said.
Allen said Afghan commandos take part in every night operation now, and they plan to "accelerate even more the capabilities of the Afghans to take over these operations themselves".
US and NATO allies have started drawing down their troops as Afghan forces start taking over security responsibility, in a process to be completed by 2014. Allen said the drawdown will not affect the military campaign.
"As the number of international forces come down, we will have to be a bit more careful about how we distribute the forces and posture the forces on the ground," he said.
"Even as our numbers are going down, ANSF numbers are going up significantly."
There are more than 305,000 Afghan security forces, which will reach 352,000 by October next year. One division of the coalition is responsible for the training of those security forces.
"It's not one for one substitution; they have got a lot of experience yet to attain, to achieve," Allen said. "But for now, all of those numbers, we can absorb and fit the campaign plan.
Allen said he is confident that Afghan forces can take the lead. Challenges lie ahead but the drawdown date of 2014 is attainable, he said.
One of the main challenges is going to be the east, Allen said.
The eastern border is still highly volatile and foreign forces have launched major operations, specifically against the Haqqani network who are believed to have been operating from the other side in tribal areas of Pakistan.
"We have got some fighting we still have to do and that fighting is probably going to take couple more years," Allen said.