Joint patrol
Capt. Garrett Gingrich (2nd from left), the commander of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, and a member of the Afghan National Security Forces, speak with Mehirulla Muslim (2nd from right), the Nurgaram district sub-governor, in the Nurgaram district of Nuristan province, Afghanistan, on Feb. 21, 2011. Gingrich represented Forward Operating Base Kalagush during a grand opening ceremony for a completed solar panel project. The project, which will supply village schools with 15 kilowatts of power and electricity, was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Nuristan Provincial Reconstruction Team.

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2011 -- As the transition approaches for Afghan forces to begin taking responsibility for security in their country, actions in the coming months will have consequences for years to come, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan said here, today.

Gen. David H. Petraeus told the House Armed Services Committee that each step in the process, set to culminate with Afghan forces having the security lead throughout the country by the end of 2014, must be closely coordinated and irrevocable.

"We'll get one shot at transition, and we need to get it right," he said.

The coalition has increased its efforts to enable the Afghan government's work to improve governance, economic development and the provision of basic services, Petraeus said.

"These are essential elements of the effort to shift delivery of basic services from provincial reconstruction teams and international organizations to Afghan government elements," he explained.

Afghan-led reintegration of reconcilable insurgents must be an important element of the strategy, Petraeus said, noting that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force is assisting Afghan government initiatives, including the recently established Afghan high peace council and provincial reintegration councils.

"Indeed, we recognize that we and our Afghan partners cannot just kill or capture our way out of the insurgency in Afghanistan," the general said. "In fact, some 700 former Taliban have now officially reintegrated with Afghan authorities, and some 2,000 more are in various stages of the reintegration process."

All of these efforts are part of a comprehensive civil-military approach, he explained, in which ISAF coordinates with international organizations, diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, and the Afghan government and security forces.

"We have also sought to ensure that we minimize loss of innocent civilian life in the course of our operations," he added.

A recent United Nations study found that civilian casualties resulting from ISAF actions decreased by more than 20 percent in 2010, though the number of coalition forces increased by more than 100,000, Petraeus noted. But despite the reduction in civilian casualties, he said, several tragic incidents in recent weeks prompted him to order a review of use of force at all levels of ISAF and among attack helicopter air crews.

"I also reemphasized instructions on reducing damage to infrastructure and property to an absolute minimum," he said. "Counterinsurgents cannot succeed if they harm the people they are striving to protect."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will announce next week the first locations where security responsibility will transition to Afghan lead, Petraeus said. In keeping with the principles adopted by NATO's North Atlantic Council, he added, the pace of transition will be determined by conditions on the ground.

"According to the NATO principles, transition will see our forces thinning out, not just handing off," he said, telling the lawmakers that some forces freed up by transition will be reassigned to other locations in Afghanistan or to training Afghan army and police forces.

"Similar processes are also taking place as we commence transition of certain training and institutional functions from ISAF trainers to their Afghan counterparts," he said.

As the security transition unfolds, he said, ISAF must focus not just on the year ahead, but on the goal of full security responsibility transfer by the end of 2014.

"Indeed, we need to ensure that we take a sufficiently long view [and] that our actions in the months ahead enable long-term achievement in the years ahead," Petraeus said.

ISAF has refined its campaign plan to do just that, and has begun to look beyond 2014 to establishing U.S. and NATO strategic partnerships with Afghanistan, he said.

"All of this is enormously reassuring to our Afghan partners, and of considerable concern to the Taliban," he said. An enduring commitment by the international community to Afghanistan, he added, is important to insurgents' recognition that reconciliation, rather than continued fighting, should be their goal.

Petraeus said four funding issues are key to sustaining progress in Afghanistan.

"I am concerned that levels of funding for our State Department and [U.S. Agency for International Development] partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform," he said, adding that inadequate funding for civilian efforts in Afghanistan could jeopardize the overall mission.

"I offer that assessment noting we have just completed a joint civil-military campaign plan between U.S. Forces Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy."

Second, Petraeus said, he deeply appreciates funding for additional capabilities such as surveillance assets and all-terrain mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles for coalition forces. Commanders Emergency Response Program and reintegration program funding have likewise been instrumental to the overall counterinsurgency effort, he said.

Third, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, he said, are the largest donors to Afghanistan after the United States, and have been critical to construction of the Ring Road and the Uzbek-Afghan railroad.

"We need these critical enabling institutions, and further U.S. support for them will ensure that they're able to continue to contribute as significantly as they have in the past," he said.

Finally, funding for development of Afghan security forces and their resulting gains in quantity, quality and capability is "essential to the process of transition," Petraeus said.

"Our objectives in Afghanistan and in the region are of vital importance," he said. "We will continue to make adjustments, in close consultation with our Afghan and international counterparts, as the situation evolves."

Page last updated Thu March 17th, 2011 at 06:15