KABUL: The Afghan Army and police forces should be able to secure most of Afghanistan by 2011, allowing international forces to start withdrawing, the American commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, Gen. Dan K. McNeill, said Sunday. “By about 2011 there is going to be some pretty good capacity in the Afghan National Army,” he said in an interview in the Kabul headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force.
“It will take them a few more years to get their air transport and air support platforms online, but they should be covering a lot of battle space by some time in 2011, in my view,” he said. By then, barring any cataclysm, the countries contributing troops to the international force could look at whether such a large international force was still desirable, General McNeill said. “I think you begin to get to a juncture and say, ‘Probably not, maybe we should be starting to change the way this force works,’ ” he said.
The issue has been important to the discussion within NATO about its mission in Afghanistan. Some members of NATO, which has taken over much of the security for the country, have been reluctant to send troops, or to allow their troops to operate in areas where the insurgency is active. General McNeill said that the United Nations-mandated force, which includes 47,000 troops from 40 countries, would be better named the Interim Security Assistance Force, in recognition of its temporary role until Afghan forces can take over.
The general, who will complete his second tour in Afghanistan this summer — he commanded American forces from 2002 to 2003 — said that Afghan forces had already effectively been managing the security for Kabul, the capital, for the last year, albeit with NATO support. He also expressed confidence that the Afghans would be able to secure the country well enough for the country to hold presidential elections in September 2009.
“Tactically, on the battlefield, the insurgents did not have a very good year last year,” he said. “The so-called toe-to-toe fights will probably be less common — smaller skirmishes — but the technique of choice for the insurgent will be the improvised explosive device and the suicide bomber.”
He said he had seen intelligence reports that more foreign fighters had been arriving recently in the tribal areas of Pakistan that border Afghanistan, where Pakistani and Afghan members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to find sanctuary. “The reports are they are increasing,” he said. “It quite possibly could mean, in the areas that are adjacent to the border, a more active spring or summer than we should have had,” he said. “If there are sanctuaries for the extremists, for the miscreants, for the insurgents, that remain just out of reach of security forces, then it becomes a difficult problem and it makes achieving long-term security and stability within Afghanistan awfully hard to reach,” he said.
The long-term stability of Afghanistan also depends on the good will and help of all its neighbors, not just Pakistan, he said. “All neighbors have to be helpful, and there are quite a few neighbors around here,” he said. NATO forces must improve their training to avoid roadside bombs, which have increased significantly in recent months, he said. But he said that the Afghan forces were the best protection against suicide bombers, since the bombers were usually strangers, and Afghans were likely to spot strangers much more quickly than foreign soldiers could.
Development of a national police force is critical to success in countering the insurgency, he said, adding that despite generous support from the United States Congress for police training, “The rate of progress is not fast enough for any of us.”-SANA