Three decades of war, extremism and terrorism, have taken toll
June 29, 2006
In his prepared statement, Army Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry said Afghanistan still is plagued by terrorist groups, drug traffickers and a determined criminal element, as well as tribal conflicts and land disputes. All these elements continue to challenge the overall security environment, he said. Eikenberry testified before the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee June 28.
The enemies of the fledgling Afghan democracy are not particularly strong, the general said. However, the institutions of the Afghan state still are relatively weak, which allows the enemy to operate in some areas of the country, according to Eikenberry. Taliban fighters have returned in some strength - groups of 40 to 50, he said - in some districts, especially southern Afghanistan.
The current military operation in southern Afghanistan is designed to flush enemy forces from their safe havens and then attack them when they are forced to move. More important, Eikenberry said, coalition forces are extending the authority of the central government.
"The combat phase of this operation is only the precursor to our longer-term goal of strengthening good governance, the rule of law, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, and economic development," the general said. This emphasis on governance is the most salient characteristic of the campaign, he added.
While combat forces are fighting, Eikenberry said, Provincial Reconstruction Teams actively are engaging district and provincial leaders, medical aid teams are treating thousands of Afghans, and hundreds of miles of roads are being constructed. The road-building effort "is key to expanding the reach of the central government and jump-starting the rural economy," he said. "I cannot overstate its importance."
Turning to the future, Eikenberry noted that NATO's International Security Assistance Force will expand its areas of operations to southern Afghanistan. By the end of 2006, NATO should assume responsibility for the overall security mission. However, he stressed that "the United States' full commitment in Afghanistan will remain undiminished," and pointed out that U.S. forces will provide the largest contingent of NATO troops and military capability.
Following military success and establishing good governance, Eikenberry said, the next step would entail the transition from U.S. or coalition leadership in these efforts to Afghan leadership. Then, Afghanistan must reach out to its neighbors in the fight against terrorism.
"Afghanistan, Pakistan and the international community are threatened by a common enemy," he said.
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