KABUL — After three tours in Afghanistan, the departing U.S. second-in-command for the country stayed on message but sounded a note of caution at a farewell news conference Tuesday.
Lt. Gen. James Terry referred to the main issues often cited by coalition leaders as markers of success in Afghanistan — increased access to education, healthcare and cell phone service for Afghans and the increased capabilities of the Afghan Security Forces. But he stopped short of predicting the demise of what has proved to be a stubborn insurgency.
“I’m not going to make any predictions,” he said. “My first time here in 2007 there were a lot of well-intended people making claims about the last gasp of the insurgency. Frankly, (the insurgency) is very resilient.”
Terry is leaving his post as commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s Joint Command and as deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan. Terry is the head of the U.S. Army’s V Corps and will return to Germany upon leaving Afghanistan. A second group of V Corps troops returned Tuesday at the end of their last deployment. The corps is due to inactivate later this year.
Terry pointed to this summer as a critical juncture for the Afghan National Security Forces, who have been taking more responsibility for security — as well as increasingly high casualties. They are to assume full responsibility for security across Afghanistan by the end of 2014, when all international combat troops are scheduled to leave the country.
Despite Department of Defense figures that show violence in Afghanistan is up compared to levels before the U.S. sent a surge of more than 30,000 additional troops, Terry said the surge had worked. He cited coalition statistics showing that violence had moved out of urban areas and is now concentrated in very few rural areas.
“The majority of the population experiences less than 20 percent of the violence out there,” he said.
But he also seemed to lament an opportunity lost during his tour in 2007, when he said Afghan forces were not yet ready to cement gains made against insurgents.
“We conducted coalition-led operations to clear areas, but we simply did not have the Afghan National Security Forces we needed to hold the terrain, protect the people and deny safe-haven [to insurgents] and, as a result, the insurgency reemerged,” he said.