Almost a month into 2012 — a year both Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, called pivotal to operations there — International Security Assistance Force officials said last year’s accomplishments have set the stage for continued success.
“This year offers an opportunity to turn a corner,” Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson of the German army, spokesman for the NATO-led ISAF coalition, told reporters during a Jan. 24 news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
“I hope that when we will look back at 2012,” he said, “we will continue to see the incredible progress for the people of this nation on their path to a well-deserved peace.”
Panetta, during his pre-holiday visit to Afghanistan last month, told deployed troops he believes the effort has reached a turning point and emphasized the importance of what happens there this year.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Panetta said during a visit to Forward Operating Base Sharana in remote but strategically important Paktika province. “And we’re winning this very tough conflict in Afghanistan.”
Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, said in his blog earlier this month he believes that progress will continue by focusing on the “keys to security.”
One of these keys, he said, is a unity of effort, with a goal of achieving a sense of “in together, out together” among ISAF’s 50 troop-contributing nations.
“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 the coming year,” Stavridis said.
He said he was encouraged by the long-term commitment exhibited by 100 nations and international organizations represented at the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in December.
Stavridis also noted continued progress during 2011 in two other key areas: the transition to an Afghan security lead, and continued pressure on the insurgents.
Jacobson reported during this week’s news conference that this trajectory is continuing.
Already, “2012 is off to a very rough start for the insurgency,” he said. He noted that it follows another “tough year” during 2011, with the insurgents losing key ground and resources and failing to accomplish their stated goals in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, their leadership “continues to hide across the border in Pakistan,” losing much of their ability to command and control their troops, Jacobson said.
Insurgent forces in Afghanistan continue to use improvised explosive devices to launch indiscriminate attacks, he said, despite orders from Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s spiritual leader, to quit harming civilians.
While acknowledging that they still have the ability to launch high-visibility attacks, Jacobson said “these acts of desperation should not fool anyone.”
“I believe the insurgency is starting to understand that they cannot continue their terrorist acts of the past against the Afghan people, and the only clear solution is reintegration into a peaceful Afghan society,” he said.
Jacobson lauded solid gains during 2011 that are laying the foundation for this momentum to continue.
He cited positive trends in terms of offensive operations against insurgents, as well as improvements in capacity development within the Afghan national security forces.
“Our goals were to increase Afghan lead of security responsibilities, target key insurgent leaders, retain and expand secure areas and help [Afghan forces] earn the support of the people through improved security capacity and capability,” he told reporters.
Jacobson cited areas of focus for the year ahead to build on and expand these gains.
In the east, for example, ISAF and Afghan national security forces “will continue to apply maximum pressure,” he said, to eliminate the Haqqani and other insurgent networks and disrupt their logistical capabilities through the winter and into spring.
This effort supports the vision Allen set for 2012.
During Panetta’s visit to Kabul in December, Allen told reporters he sees this year as a time to consolidate gains already made in Afghanistan’s north, south and west and to extend them eastward. This, he said, will include “significant counterinsurgency operations” to continue this year in the Regional Command East area, with the goal of pushing the security zone east of Kabul.
Jacobson said this week that progress also will continue in other areas ranging from education to infrastructure to counternarcotics.
Afghanistan had 175,000 teachers in 2011, up from 20,000 in 2012, he reported. Eight million Afghan children were enrolled in school, compared to fewer than 1 million in 2002. Afghanistan now has more than 6,200 miles of paved roads, with more than 80 percent of the population using them.
Local security development is progressing, too, Jacobson reported. The Afghan National Army now is almost 180,000 strong, and the Afghan National Police now has nearly 144,000 men and women in uniform, serving local communities.
As they grow in number, Afghan national security forces are assuming greater security responsibility. More than 50 percent of Afghanistan is slated to be under Afghan security control by this spring, Jacobson said, “and we have every expectation that this will increase to 66 percent in the very near future.”