COLUMN: U.S. and Afghanistan’s Troops Promoting Democracy
Op-Ed in The Hill's Congress Blog
Last week, I had the pleasure of hearing General David Petraeus, U.S. Army Commander of the International Security Assistance Force and of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Afghanistan. Ever the dedicated professional, the General not only outlined the current state of affairs on the war front but also updated Members as to the progressions and potential setbacks currently facing allied forces in Afghanistan.
After hearing his testimony and visiting with him and his troops last month in Afghanistan, I remain steadfast in my belief that our troops are truly making a difference in helping to establish a democracy in a country that was once run out of fear and corruption by terrorists, warlords, and the Taliban.
Immediately addressing the top issue on the Committee’s mind, General Petraeus discussed the level of security in the country first. Coalition forces have been making steady progress in establishing security in the country. So much so that the Joint-Afghan NATO Board will announce this spring to begin transition to Afghan leads in certain provinces.
This is very encouraging news when assessing our progress. Admittedly, a strong ally military presence must remain to ensure gains made by coalition forces are not lost to insurgents. But this news is instrumental to meet this July’s beginning drawdown deadline set forth by the President.
Next, the General discussed the approach being taken in order to achieve the core objective: ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a prime sanctuary for Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization to attack America again as it did September 11th. Coalition forces are implementing a “comprehensive approach” which not only focuses on a civil-military counterinsurgency campaign but is also establishing the organizations required to support such a massive campaign.
Achieving this objective requires much effort and sacrifice on the part of the Afghan population. The General assured us, the Afghanis are rising to the challenge with 70,000 more police and troops inspired by the Obama troop surge of 30,000 more U.S. Forces.
Since 2009, Afghanistan’s Security Forces have swelled to over 122,000 members. Due to such commitments, districts west of Kandahar city, the birthplace of the Taliban, and Helmand Province, another Taliban stronghold, have been wrestled away from the Taliban. Now these areas are not only being secured but built upon by locals.
Marjah, the main city in world’s largest opium region, recently held a community council election on March 1. Such gains in long-time safe havens serve as proof of the progress the people of Afghanistan are making. Another by- product of the new improvements towards peace in these areas is that more coalition forces are able to be positioned near the border of Pakistan.
Doing so allows a presence to stand guard to stop potential flows of counter insurgents with their explosives, weapons, and drugs from entering through the border of Pakistan, which in turn has destabilized the nuclear neighbor of Pakistan.
The events described above are more than merely symbolic gestures. They serve as concrete evidence to warlords and insurgents that the Afghanistan security forces are not only capable but willing to provide security to locals. The quality as well as quantity of the forces are both on the rise.
As the General relayed to us, “The past year alone has seen Afghan forces grow by over one-third, adding some 70,000 soldiers and police.” This is a great sign for all parties involved with the efforts in Afghanistan.
Another key component of the “comprehensive approach” is the need to minimize the loss of innocent civilian life. General Petraeus cited a recent 2010 United Nations study which highlighted civilian casualties due to coalition and Afghan force operations actually dropped 20%.
This occurred despite the increase in size of forces along with the amount of operations conducted where the cowardly enemies use women and children as human shields. However, there is still much that must be done on this front and our military is fully aware of this.
Our country is fortunate to have such a capable leader leading our military in Afghanistan. But make no mistake: we are still at war with a determined enemy. In order to have an irreversible transition, we must make sure progressions made by both US and Afghan troops are not lost. I am appreciative of the sacrifices the members of our armed services make on a daily basis. It is our duty as lawmakers to equip them with all the necessary tools to succeed against our ruthless enemies.