By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 16, 2008 - Afghanistan's national security forces are in the forefront of the fight against insurgents who seek to derail the government and impose their will on the Afghan people, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Afghanistan said today. "The Afghan national security forces remain the centerpiece of our comprehensive strategy. They're constantly improving their capacity to plan and conduct operations, while our enemies continue to suffer losses of key leaders," Army Brig. Gen. Joseph L. Votel, deputy commander for operations at Combined Joint Task Force 82, said during a telephone conference call from Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan.
Two specially trained Afghan army commando battalions have been busy taking the fight to the Taliban and other insurgents, Votel said. The commandos, he said, recently defeated a group of terrorists who had attacked U.S. forces. Another Afghan commando battalion is slated to join the others soon, he said.
"These units provide significantly improved operational capability for the nearly 47,000-strong (Afghan) army," Votel said.
The Afghan soldiers' efforts in targeting insurgent leaders and their networks are paying off, Votel said. Terrorist activity has declined within Regional Command East, an area of operations under CJTF 82's purview that includes portions of the Afghan-Pakistani border, he said.
Afghan forces successfully accomplished 50 percent of these anti-insurgent operations during the past month and a half, Votel said.
"Last month, incidents in the border area were 41 percent lower compared to December 2006 and nearly 50 percent below the 12-month average," Votel reported. "This trend continues into January."
In addition, a new district police training program was launched in December, the general said.
"This program will allow for the professional training of officers and police leaders, who will then be reinserted back into their districts, better able to serve their people," Votel said.
Recent assessments have determined that security has improved in 81 districts within Regional Command East's area of responsibility since July, Votel said. He also saluted "significant" assistance provided by NATO International Security Assistance Force members.
"In addition to provincial reconstruction teams from New Zealand, Turkey, and soon from the Czech Republic, as well as medical resources from Egypt and the Republic of Korea, we are ably served by a 1,100-soldier contingent from Poland," Votel said.
Recently, Polish soldiers and members the 2nd Brigade of the Afghan 203rd Army Corps teamed up to accomplish a "highly successful" operation that opened up an area that previously had limited opportunity for security, governance and development, Votel reported.
News reports citing Poland's intent to increase its number of forces in Afghanistan "is greatly welcomed," the general said.
Federal and local Afghan leaders continue to make headway to extend government assistance to rural Afghans across the region, Votel said.
"The tribal-based culture in Regional Command East is beginning to gain confidence and trust in its government and their leaders," Votel said.
In 2002, he noted, there were no centers of government within CJTF 82's area of responsibility. Today, "there are now a total of 78 operating district (government) centers, with 48 more under construction," he said.