By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 23, 2008 - The U.S. commander of NATO's Regional Command East in Afghanistan today said he does not think the Taliban will launch a spring offensive in his area of operations. Army Maj. Gen. David Rodriguez, also commander of Combined Joint Task Force 82 based at Bagram Air Base, told Pentagon reporters here that improvements in Afghan government control and delivery of services to the people of the region have blunted the Taliban's appeal in the region.
Regional Command East covers the provinces bordering on Pakistan. A year ago, the area was a battleground against Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists infiltrating over the Pakistani-Afghan border. Today, the mood in the provinces is upbeat,; the Afghan people believe they are making progress, and they do not want the Taliban ruining the security and economic progress, Rodriguez said.
"I don't think there'll be a big spring offensive this year," Rodriguez said. "I base that on the fact that the Afghan security forces and the Afghan governance and Afghan development has moved forward. The people of Afghanistan don't want ... the Taliban back, and the strength of their institutions has gone up significantly in the last year."
By spring, the Afghan National Army will field two more brigade combat teams in the region, Rodriguez said, "and we're prepared to handle whatever comes ... with that amount of forces."
Afghanistan has progressed farthest in the security arena, but governance and economic progress are close behind. The Afghan security forces are growing in strength and capability, and the Afghan national government is extending its reach.
"Yes, there are still challenges to overcome before Afghanistan reaches the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, but it's making slow, steady progress toward these goals," Rodriguez said.
The Afghan National Army is taking the lead in operations in the region. "Afghan security forces are participating at all levels to provide security and disrupt the command-and-control capability of the enemy," Rodriguez said.
The Afghan National Police force is not as far advanced as the army, but is making progress, he said. The police are controlling roughly 15 percent of the area in the provinces and have improved in working with NATO forces and the Afghan army.
"There are also visible signs of progress in development in Afghanistan," the general said.
There is a huge increase in traffic and travel on the roadways, and the majority of the provinces have seen a rise in local businesses, he said.
The legal economy is growing faster than the narcotics economy, Rodriguez said, but opium cultivation, refining and smuggling remain a large problem for forces all over Afghanistan. Still, legal farming has expanded, and for the first time in 10 years, the grain harvest in 2007 met the needs of the country.
Afghans also are making progress in building infrastructure for local, provincial and national governments. "Provincial development plans were produced in all 14 of the provinces in RC East, as opposed to four that were done last year," Rodriguez said. "This cooperation to build these clearly shows growth in government capacity. The provincial councils are also taking an increasing role in governance, such as in crisis-action planning."
And Afghans are taking notice. "The latest surveys show that the local communities actually start to feel that some of the police are providing security for them," he said.
The population of the area is pleased with progress in the police, medical care, education and drinking water projects. "These indicators show Afghans making progress. However, there are still challenges here to overcome," Rodriguez said. "The Afghan National Police lack the complete police leadership to fully continue to progress as fast as they need to."
Corruption continues to be a government problem, but people at all levels are challenging this practice and asking for more openness. "When you think about a few years ago they weren't allowed to complain about corruption to now being one of the biggest things that they're upset about. That's a pretty important and significant change," the general said.
Security progress has opened up a gap between the Afghan peoples' expectations and the government's capability, Rodriguez said. "The expectations continue to grow faster than what the government or the international community can deliver," he said. "But Afghanistan will become self-reliant, self-securing and committed to a representative government."
This can be accomplished with realistic objectives, continued international support, and expanded regional support, Rodriguez said. And, "While it won't happen overnight, it will continue to see slow, steady progress toward this end," he said.