A year after Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal took charge of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, he reviewed the progress achieved there over the past 12 months and provided his perspective for the year to come.
Meeting with reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, the Army general said although work remains to be done in Afghanistan, much has taken place with a new approach to the mission over the last year.
The new approach for the Afghanistan mission began with an exhaustive assessment followed by refinements in strategy and some difficult resource decisions, McChrystal said. The past year also has seen an overhaul of the command’s concept of operations, and a retooling of how it develops the Afghan national security forces. The Afghan forces are the strategic main effort, and they are key to the long-term stability of the country, he said.
Meanwhile, the numbers of Afghan soldiers and national police continue to increase, he said. A year ago, there were about 150,000 total Afghan national security forces, and today there are 230,000.
“That’s a significant growth in a 12-month period. In 18 months – that 12, plus the next six months – we will have equaled the growth of the last seven years, so you can see that pace has accelerated,” he said.
But numbers are not the whole story. The quality of Afghan forces is moving ahead rapidly over the past year through coalition forces working side by side with their Afghan partners, McChrystal said.
“Today, about 85 percent of the Afghan National Army has real partnerships as they go around the battlefield,” he said.
Though the Afghan forces are many years away from a level of professionalism that would be expected of long-standing forces such as the U.S. Army, the general said, they have made significant progress.
Operationally, the focus over the past year has been in southern Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand province, where the Taliban owned most of the Helmand River valley a year ago, McChrystal said.
“In early July,” he said, “we started putting forces down there to augment the small number that had been there, and [the Taliban] don’t own the Helmand River valley any more.”
Yet, challenges remain in Helmand province, McChrystal acknowledged, noting that insurgent-committed violence there has continued and will continue.
“It is by no means a completely secure area,” he said. “But a year ago, when they owned it, is starkly different from what exists now.”
When he took charge in Afghanistan, McChrystal said, he was unsatisfied with the structure and unity of command of the organization that was in place.
“Today, we’ve unified that,” he said. “We’ve created some subordinate commands, … and we’ve tied our efforts closer with the civilian side, and [it’s] more integrated than in the past, and I’m happy with that progress.”