November 23rd, 2006 08:03 EST
U.S. General Says, NATO Must Honor Troop Pledges for Afghanistan
Washington „Ÿ NATO’s international force charged with helping to stabilize Afghanistan remains understaffed by as much as 15 percent, and the use of many of these forces comes with too many restrictions that limit the alliance’s tactical flexibility, says a top U.S. general.
“The amount of capabilities and forces that NATO has contributed at this point -- it's about 85 percent of the level of what was promised,” Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the commander of U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in a November 21 briefing.
On October 5, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) completed the transfer of authority from U.S.-led coalition forces for international security operations in Afghanistan. In addition to NATO’s 26 members, the 32,000-strong force also includes troops from Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Finland, Ireland, Macedonia, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland. (See related article.)
Even though allied forces have distinguished themselves across Afghanistan in 2006 – particularly in a series of successful operations in militant-dominated southern provinces, countries participating in ISAF have pledged more soldiers than they have deployed to date, Eikenberry said. He added that the issue will be among the top items on the agenda of the upcoming NATO heads of state summit in Riga, Latvia, on November 28-29. (See related article.)
Another issue to be discussed in Riga will be the “caveats,” or operational restrictions placed on country’s troops by their home governments. While some forces, such as those from the United States, are permitted to be used freely by operational commanders, other ISAF countries limit their troops to specific duties or service in specified parts of Afghanistan.
Eikenberry expressed support for ISAF’s commander, British General David Richards, in his efforts to convince states to reduce or remove their caveats. Such change, he said, is essential “to give the operational commander the absolute flexibility and the full set of capabilities that are required in order to fight the campaign.”
UNITED STATES HELPING TO ACCELERATE TRAINING OF AFGHAN ARMY
Eikenberry, who commands an additional 11,000 U.S. troops operating in Operation Enduring Freedom, also reported on progress toward the Afghan government’s goal to train and equip a 70,000-strong Afghan National Army by October 2008 „Ÿ two years ahead of the 2010-2011 time frame established in the 2002 London Compact.
Eikenberry was joined at the briefing by Afghanistan’s minister of defense, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, who told journalists, “The formula for success in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghan national security forces to defend the Afghan people.”
While visiting the United States to consult with top U.S. officials, Eikenberry and Wardak visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where they observed United Endeavor, a weeklong training exercise to prepare 1,300 soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division for an upcoming deployment in Afghanistan, where they will serve as part of the NATO force. In October, Eikenberry said, 50 Afghan soldiers trained with the 82nd Airborne at Fort Polk, Louisiana, a significant step that he said, “underscores the continuing development of the Afghan national security forces.”
To highlight U.S. support of Afghanistan’s progress in building its security forces, Wardak pointed to six operational priorities of his government:
• Building an increasingly capable Afghan army, as seen in recent operational successes alongside U.S. forces;
• Creating a new comprehensive training program for Afghan army recruits;
• Providing Afghan forces with improved firepower, armored vehicles and logistics;
• Redoubling of efforts to recruit and retain Afghan forces with a focus on eliminating corruption and misconduct in the ranks;
• Taking the lead from ISAF in maintaining security; and
• Further developing Afghanistan’s strategic relationships through the recent conclusion of long-term partnership agreements with the United States, the United Kingdom, NATO and the European Union.
A transcript of the Eikenberry and Wardak briefing is available on the Department of Defense Web site.
For more information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan and The U.S. and NATO.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)