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Afghanistan report shows Security, Governance gains

Progress across Afghanistan remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance and development in key areas, according to a Defense Department report sent to Congress today.

The congressionally mandated report, submitted every 180 days, tracks government, economic and military activity to assess coalition success in reaching President Barack Obama’s goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

A senior Defense Department official and a senior State Department official briefed reporters on background about today’s report, which covers activities in Afghanistan from April 1 to Sept. 30.

The report cites growth in Afghan security forces as the “most promising” area of progress, and notes incremental improvement in security and socio-economic development.

The increase in Afghan security forces “is the key to the transition,” the Defense official said, noting that both the Afghan army and police have been ahead of their recruiting goals since July.

As the report points out, Afghan forces still need more leaders in their ranks, he said.

“Building leaders take time,” he said, noting that senior noncommissioned officers, captains and majors don’t appear overnight.

The report records a 55 percent rise over the previous quarter in “kinetic events,” including direct and indirect fire, surface-to-air fire and exploded, found or cleared roadside bombs.

The Defense official said the Afghanistan strategy always assumed the increase in coalition forces would be followed by a rise in violence, which the report bears out.

The report attributes this rise to the increase in coalition and Afghan forces and their expansion into new areas, a dramatically accelerated pace of operations and a spike in incidents during the September parliamentary elections, consistent with previous elections.

Despite the jump in violence, the report noted fewer civilian casualties attributable to coalition actions than in previous reporting periods.

The report also indicates the number of Afghans rating their security situation as “bad” is the highest since the nationwide survey began in September 2008.

The Afghan public’s dissatisfaction with their level of security also stems from coalition and Afghan forces’ expansion into areas they hadn’t previously cleared, the Defense official said.

“Two years ago, if you had asked an Afghan in Helmand if they were secure, they wouldn’t have been happy that the Taliban were there, but there wasn’t fighting going on,” he said. “When we got there, there was a lot of fighting going on.”

The report, which includes data only up to Sept. 30, doesn’t reflect the most current security situation in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, he said.

“Over the past two months, there has been slow and steady progress in Helmand,” he said, “and important progress in Kandahar.”

The State Department official said civilian-led coalition efforts to encourage Afghan governance and economic development in Helmand and Kandahar also show progress.

In the end, the question of what level of local governance Afghans want is a question “Afghans need to decide,” the State Department official said.

The drawdown of combat forces set to begin in July, and the 2014 goal to complete the security handover to Afghan forces, doesn’t negate the United States’ and coalition’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan, the Defense official said.

“We need to correct misperceptions about that,” he said. “We have a long-term enduring commitment to Afghanistan.”

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