WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 26, 2010) -- In an update on counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, the director of the Pakistan/Afghanistan Coordination Cell said that if U.S. Forces Afghanistan commander Gen. David H. Petraeus were here, he would characterize efforts in the war-torn country to be "slow and steady, but we are making progress."

Addressing Association of the U.S. Army members at its annual meeting here, Brig. Gen. John Nicholson Jr. said that over the last 18 months in Afghanistan, the focus has been on building military and civil capacity. That includes putting 1,000 civilians on the ground while ramping up Afghan Security Forces from 258,000 to 301,000 in addition to the 50,000 U.S. troops who were brought in under the surge.

Building the right counterinsurgency institutions with the right leaders, clearing Taliban safe-havens and establishing local police in selected areas are also keys to the counterinsurgency, as is facilitating the reintegration of enemy fighters by convincing them that it's better to sign up and rejoin society than it is to fight the government, Nicholson said.

"We're focusing our counterinsurgency efforts on about a third of the districts in the country, primarily focused on the east and the south because that is where the insurgency has its greatest strengths," he said. "The main efforts are in Kandahar and Helmand provinces with secondary efforts up in the east along the border areas with Pakistan."

The general added that the 50,000 troops brought in were all dispatched to the south with Helmand being primarily a Marine Corps operation while Kandahar and Kabul were Army.

He said the coalition's main objective was to secure the major population centers and then enable the Afghan government to connect with the people in those areas to achieve a degree where they buy into the government and then the coalition transitions control and steps back.

Nicholson also said that as forces seek to secure population centers, a portion of the force must continue to maintain the initiative against the enemy, most of which is retained by special operations forces which are working at an "unprecedented operational tempo."

"Every 24 hours on average we are killing or capturing three to five mid-level leaders and 24 enemy fighters," he said. "The affect of this has been multifaceted. One. It's lowered the average age of enemy leadership, because they're getting killed so quickly, which is severely disrupting their command and control in country."

He cited an example whereby forces killed a Taliban shadow governor, who they replaced within 72 hours, but he too was also killed.

"So this is the kind of optempo that's been maintained against the enemy," he said. "We are beginning to see anecdotal evidence that this is having an effect on their morale and their cohesion and so forth - obviously this is exactly the kind of pressure we need to maintain on the enemy, which then buys us space and time to secure the population and achieve that connection that we're after between the government and the population."

Nicholson added that the security campaign has entailed a spike in violence which is inevitable. The coalition is presently at the peak of that violence, he said, but added that as governance capability increases and Afghan confidence increases, the violence will begin to go down.