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American Forces Press Service

Eastern Afghanistan Makes 'Significant' Security, Governance Gains

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2008 – The people of eastern Afghanistan have realized significant gains in security and governance as compared to just a few years ago, a senior U.S. military officer told Pentagon reporters today.

“The capacity and capabilities that have been achieved over the last 30 months by the Afghan people is nothing short of phenomenal,” Army Col. Martin Schweitzer, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team told reporters during a satellite-carried news briefing from his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Salerno, in Khost province, Afghanistan.

“I’m seeing some significant progress,” Schweitzer said.

Schweitzer’s brigade assumed responsibility for security and reconstruction operations across five provinces in eastern Afghanistan from the 10th Mountain Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team during a Feb. 21, 2007, transfer of authority ceremony. The 4BCT’s area of responsibility includes Paktika, Paktya, Logar, Ghazni and Khost provinces.

Schweitzer and his troops come under Regional Command East, part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force organization in Afghanistan. The 4th Brigade Combat Team’s soldiers are preparing to return home to Fort Bragg, N.C., after their 15-month tour of duty.

About four years ago, the Afghan National Army “was a developing organization, that was troubled, that was not able to conduct any independent operations,” recalled Schweitzer, who performed a previous duty tour in Afghanistan in 2002.

Today, the Afghan National Army “is the most respected institution on the ground, certainly in Regional Command East, and, I believe, throughout Afghanistan,” Schweitzer said.

Taliban and al Qaeda-aligned insurgents cannot win during direct confrontations on the battlefield against Afghan and coalition security forces, Schweitzer said, so they resort to roadside-bomb and suicide attacks. The often-cited Taliban spring offensive is a myth, the colonel said, noting the warmer weather simply brings an increase in roadside bombings and other hit-and-run-style attacks.

In 2002, when there wasn’t a viable Afghan national police force, the impact of the Afghan police force at that time “was nonexistent,” he said.

However, “the worse days of the ANP’s development are behind us,” the colonel emphasized. “We still have some challenging days in front of us, but we’re now seeing emerging leaders come alive and hold their formations accountable, so they can protect and serve their communities.”

The Afghan National Police are “getting better every day, and their skill sets also are improving,” Army Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Flowers, Schweitzer’s top noncommissioned officer, said.

Flowers described the role and impact of the Afghan army’s corps of noncommissioned officers as “almost nonexistent” a few years ago. Today, more than 900 NCOs are “getting after it” by training their soldiers, he said.

Citing improvements in governance and development, Schweitzer said the Afghan provincial governors in his region “prioritize the projects to provide economic development for their communities.”

Four years ago, just 10 percent of Afghans had access to health care, Schweitzer said. Today, around 75 percent of the Afghan populace can access health care, he said.

Only about 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial governors were seated four years ago, Schweitzer said. Today, all 34 provinces have seated governors, he added.

In addition, about 6 million Afghan children now attend school across Regional Command East, Schweitzer said. To illustrate the gains in education, he noted that just 38,000 Afghan boys attended non-government-sponsored schools in Khost province about four years ago.

“Today, you’ve got 160,000 kids in school, all of them government-sponsored,” Schweitzer said. About 40,000 of those students are young girls, he added.

“That’s a significant step forward, when you’re really looking at three years of government institution development and creating effects in the operational environment,” Schweitzer said.

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