Operations Bringing Security to Afghanistan,
Abizaid Says

By Kathleen T. Rhem

Military operations won’t bring stability to Afghanistan, the U.S. general in charge of operations in that region said April 30. But such operations set the stage for ensuring the success of the Afghan national government, which, in turn, will speed reconstruction and a return to normalcy.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, which includes operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, admitted today during a briefing with Pentagon reporters that much work remains in Afghanistan, but he painted an optimistic picture of the progress that’s been made.

"Over time, this strategy to bring Afghanistan back into the responsible community of nations … is one that I think is working," he said from his command’s forward-deployed headquarters in Qatar.

Abizaid summed up the coalition’s goals in Afghanistan as: to conduct "robust combat operations" around the country’s border with Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda, to destroy Taliban remnants and increase the presence of the Afghan National Army throughout the country, to increase reconstruction efforts through provincial reconstruction teams and further internationalize PRTs, and to increase the capacity of the Afghan national government to control the country’s security.

He said he believes Afghan President Hamid Karzai is happy with progress within Afghanistan so far.

The U.S. force level of 20,000 troops is higher than normal temporarily because of increased offensive operations and scheduled unit rotations, Abizaid said.

U.S. Army forces have been conducting combat operations near the Pakistani border to hunt down al Qaeda fighters believed to be operating in the lawless border region. Abizaid said those forces are there "primarily to prevent the escape of al Qaeda forces that are being pushed out of Pakistan as a result of Pakistani operations."

U.S. Marine forces with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit are focusing their efforts around Kandahar to defeat Taliban remnants.

These operations are yielding results, Abizaid said. "Despite many reports whenever you see some notion of attacks in Kandahar, Kabul or elsewhere, the situation is indeed under the control of coalition military forces," he said. "And President Karzai extends the influence of his government on a daily basis."

International support of efforts in Afghanistan is increasing, as well. About 2,000 international coalition troops are serving in Afghanistan, including a Romanian infantry battalion and a French special-operations battalion, Abizaid said.

Many other nations have provided reconstruction and support troops. Germany maintains a PRT in Gardez, and Great Britain mans a similar team in Mazar-e Sharif.

"It’s our hope that, over time, NATO will take over more and more of the northern PRTs in an effort to extend NATO command and control into the northern regions," Abizaid said. He also noted that NATO forces run the International Security Assistance Force in and around the country’s capital of Kabul.

Abizaid briefly spoke about Army Spc. Pat Tillman, the former National Football League player who enlisted in the Army two years ago and was killed in Afghanistan April 22. During a visit to Afghanistan April 29, Abizaid said, he spoke to an Army Ranger lieutenant, Tillman’s platoon leader, who was injured in the fight that killed Tillman.

"I asked (the lieutenant) yesterday how operations were going; I asked him about Pat Tillman," Abizaid said. "He said, ‘Pat Tillman was a great Ranger and a great soldier, and what more can I say about him?’

"And I’d like to say that about every one of those young men and woman that are fighting, not only in Afghanistan, but Iraq," the general continued. "These soldiers are fighting hard. They’re fighting well. They’re fighting courageously.

"And the only thing that lieutenant could say to me is that he needed to get back in the field to his troops," Abizaid said.