The American task force's 'to-do' list for the Afghan mission
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — The largest force U.S. Army Europe has ever fielded in Afghanistan is currently at work in-country. USAREUR soldiers from Italy and Germany make up about 60 percent of the Army contribution, joined by active-duty, Reserve and National Guard as well as substantial contributions from the Marines and Air Force.
Just what will all those troops be doing for the next six months?
Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, the operational commander of American forces in Afghanistan, said military leaders want to see improvements in three areas:
Afghan security forcesBoth the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army are works in progress, he said. The biggest problem the ANA has is logistics. Coordination and movement of troops are weak points.
Individually, Kamiya said, “you won’t find better fighters. They are tenacious and dedicated.”
“There is help on the way. A very robust plan to push additional equipment.”
By performing joint missions with U.S. counterparts, both the ANA and ANP are getting more experience and improving, he said. The training of new recruits has switched to “focus on quality rather than quantity.”
Overall, “we hope to have in five months a much more capable Afghan national security force than the one we met when we arrived last March,” he said.
Law and governanceKamiya says U.S. forces are in a support role, trying to convince all levels of government officials that they need to get out and meet their constituents, find problems and solve them. Culturally, Afghan leaders are used to having constituents come to visit them.
The message, Kamiya says, is: “It’s less important how many people serve the leader and more [important] how many people the leader serves.”
Governors in some areas have bought into the concept. Lt. Col. Tim McGuire, who heads Task Force Fury in Paktika province, said Gov. Gulab Mangal has been “our best offensive, when he goes out and meets the people.”
Economy and reconstructionKamiya said the task force had $82 million for fiscal 2005 to spend on an array of projects. He’s not sure what the figure will be for the coming year, but he said the budget would never cover all the projects that could be funded.
“The need is so great out there it could be spent in a heartbeat,” he said.
So officials are focusing on long-term projects that Afghans can sustain without continuing assistance. Instead of just giving a community a generator for electricity, projects are designed to ensure the community has the knowledge and ability to maintain it and the money to purchase fuel.
Getting the Afghan population involved in projects, instead of just donating money or equipment, is important. About 11,000 Afghans work on coalition projects, he said, bringing about $3.1 million a month into the local economy. Kamiya envisions individuals or entire communities picking up specific skills — such as road building — that they could later use in private enterprise or government programs.
“Over time, you could wean yourself away from contributions that come from other countries,” he said.