Operational commander: Despite perception, Afghan forces will be 'good enough'
Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — Afghan troops might seem relatively incompetent to the U.S. servicemembers fighting alongside them, the operational commander of NATO troops in Afghanistan acknowledged Wednesday at the Pentagon.
From a strategic perspective, however, the Afghans will be “good enough” to take over security responsibility in their country in the coming years, said Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.
With the clock ticking toward end of coalition combat operations by Dec. 31, 2014, only 42 percent of Afghan units can now operate effectively alongside coalition advisors, Scaparrotti said. Perhaps 1 percent can fight more or less independently.
Nevertheless, he said, Afghan forces are improving with continued training. Afghan special operations troops in particular are operating at a high standard, Scaparrotti said.
Scaparrotti said he didn’t doubt the particulars of a recent essay by a mid-level Army officer who wrote that he had “witnessed an absence of success on every level” in Afghanistan. But as the view of one person, the essay by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis titled “Truth, Lies and Afghanistan,” was too narrow in perspective to accurately judge progress, Scaparrotti said.
In the essay published in the current edition of Armed Forces Journal, Davis, who traveled around Afghanistan with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, described Afghan forces’ incompetence and collusion with the Taliban.
Scaparrotti said he’s heard similar accounts.
“At times, a private will tell me [Afghan forces are] not that good,” he said. “But a private’s looking at it from the perspective of how he’s trained or how a Marine’s trained, and the standards are very different.”
But there are success stories that Davis didn’t include, Scaparrotti said.
“These soldiers will fight … and they’re going to be good enough to secure their country and to counter the insurgency they’re dealing with now,” Scaparrotti said. “Will they be at the standard that we have for our soldiers? No.”
The number of “complex” Taliban attacks in Afghanistan has fallen by about a third from last year, while suicide bombings have risen, resulting in a spike in civilian deaths, he said. He attributed the change in tactics to coalition battlefield success.
“I think they’ve been hurt,” he said. “They’re having a hard time generating the type of offensive action they think they need.”