NATO commander: Herat, other parts of region ready for drawdown
ARLINGTON, Va. — The NATO commander in western Afghanistan said parts of that region, including the provincial capital of Herat, are ready for immediate troop drawdown and transition of power, while other areas will not be ready for at least two years.
“The transition could begin tomorrow,” said Italian Brig. Gen. Claudio Berto, commander of Regional Command-West, which has about 2,000 U.S. troops doing combat and training operations.
Herat, in the westernmost province of Afghanistan, “is a quite normal city,” he said in a video teleconference from Afghanistan.
Berto said his command and ISAF headquarters in Kabul “are looking at time scales on what could possibly be in the near future.” Some districts in western provinces will be ready for troop withdrawals, including U.S. troops, within six to nine months — ahead of Obama’s July 2011 deadline to begin those transitions, he said.
“I think it’s possible, but ... it’s not up to me,” Berto said.
Gen. David Petraeus last week presented to NATO defense leaders plans for transition in what he called a “very tentative, pre-decision, provisional analysis,” Reuters reported. He had asked his ground commanders to identify which areas of Afghanistan would be ready for transition along a staged timeline.
This is the first disclosure of a specific area being ready for transition immediately. Other areas are being targeted for transition in a 12- to 24-month window.
The decision largely depends on the readiness of Afghan National Security Forces in each district.
“I think it’s a matter of years,” Berto said. “You could start with the transition ... tomorrow, but to empower the ANSF it takes more time, probably two or three years. It depends on the effort, on the materials, on the training we are able to produce and give to them.”
Outside of Herat, troops are facing a variety of resistance fighters. Most enemy activity is from people Berto considers “criminals” working for money. Troops in northern districts of his command have faced less resistance and have established a new “security bubble” allowing people to return to their homes.
In Farah province, which borders Helmand province in the south, international forces are facing a more “ideological” insurgency.
“I mean the real Taliban,” he said.