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American Forces Press Service

Commander: Afghan Forces Gaining Capability, Respect

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2012 – Comparing insider attacks in Afghanistan to the desperate suicide missions Kamikaze pilots launched during World War II, a Marine commander in southwestern Afghanistan said the insurgents have failed to put a wedge between the coalition and the increasingly capable Afghan forces preparing to assume full security responsibility there.

Marine Corps Col. John Shafer, commander of Regimental Combat Team 6, called insider attacks a drastic, last-ditch effort by a desperate insurgency struggling to gain an advantage. But aside from requiring new security measures to protect Afghan national security forces as well as coalition members, the attacks have fallen flat in terms of derailing the relationship between them, he said.

Speaking by teleconference during an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Shafer reported steady progress in the Afghan security forces’ development during the 10 months since his Marines and sailors arrived in Helmand province.

Initially, offensive actions and targeted raids helped to create a less hostile environment for the fledging Afghan security forces to develop their capabilities, Shafer said. “Then, as we moved into the summer months, … we ensured that the Afghan national security forces -- both the army and police forces -- had the ability to occupy the spaces that we helped create through our offensive actions earlier in the year,” he said.

Now, the Afghans have taken on greater security responsibility that Schafer said has enabled his forces to scale back their operations as they prepare to redeploy.

“We reduced the force in the regimental combat team by approximately 60 percent, and we have made up the difference with the Afghan national security forces,” he said. “So … the Marines of the regional combat team … effectively created the conditions to allow the Afghan national security forces to come in and create the space for them to be able to effectively operate.”

As the Afghan forces show their increasing ability to conduct independent operations, Schafer said, they’re gaining the respect of the Afghan people.

“Initially, there was hesitation from the local national perspective, because they didn’t know how capable their Afghan national security forces were,” he said. “But … as a result of the thinning of the [International Security Assistance Force] and coalition forces, the Afghan national security forces have had to step up to meet the challenges that the Taliban have presented. And overwhelmingly, they have done very well and been very successful.

“And with that, it has really bolstered the confidence of the local national population and … given the Afghan national security forces credibility in the eyes of the people of Afghanistan,” Shafer continued. “So I think we are well on track.”

Noting a key lesson learned during the drawdown in Iraq, Shafer said population support will be critical to long-term mission success in Afghanistan.

“In any counterinsurgent environment that you are operating in, both the insurgency and the counterinsurgent forces are dependent on the local national population,” he said. “The population is what will eventually carry the day for you. So he who is most closely aligned with the population will eventually be … the winner of the conflict.

“So what we have tried to do is offer the local national population a choice that is better for them and their future, by selecting and siding with the government of Afghanistan over what the insurgency choice offers them,” Shafer said. “And I think that was very much true as well in Iraq.”

As U.S. and coalition forces draw down in Afghanistan, Shafer said, they’re ensuring the Afghan forces recognize that responsibility and conduct themselves as representatives of the Afghan government.

He expressed pride in his Marines and sailors, who often operate behind the scenes providing the ongoing support that has enabled progress to take place.

“They have done it all in a period [when] we have doubled the size of the battle space, … reduced the force by two-thirds, … transitioned lead security responsibility in many of the districts to the Afghan national security forces, … repositioned our headquarters from one location to another and sent about 40 percent of our headquarters home,” Shafer said. “And in doing it, they haven’t skipped a beat.”

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