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JBLM commander delivers optimistic message on progress in Afghanistan

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Feb. 8, 2012 at 12:37 pm with No Comments »
February 8, 2012 4:35 pm
Soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment last month met their counterparts in the Afghan National Army at a base in Zabul Province. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Chris McCullough

Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s senior leader today said he’s cautiously optimistic about NATO’s ability to hand more control of security in Afghanistan to local forces.

Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti is the No. 2 commander in Afghanistan. He deployed in July with about 500 soldiers from Lewis-McChord’s I Corps.

Today, Scaparrotti told reporters the Army is sending more advisory units to Afghanistan to support the country’s growing army.

“With over 300,000 Afghans in uniform, freedom of movement has increased, insurgent support bases have been reduced, and the people are gaining respect for their Afghan security forces.  I believe this trust and sense of security will increase as the Afghan forces step into the lead,” Scaparrotti said.

Scaparrotti said few Afghan units can operate effectively without NATO advisers. About 42 percent of the Afghan units can lead operations with support from Western forces, he said.

“That has been growing throughout, and that’s really what we’re trying to do,” he said. “That’s a good — you know, that’s half your force, nearly, that — effective with advisers.  So they can operate, they need our enablers, they need some advisory to help them, and that’s where we’re at today. ”

Lewis-McChord’s 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division deployed to Afghanistan in December, and it has been connecting with its Afghan partners since then. Commanders said before the brigade left that its soldiers would be putting Afghan forces in the lead as much as possible.

Scaparrotti walked a line between touting the diminished capability of Taliban fighters to carry out complex attacks against American forces and a rise in civilian casualties . The United Nations reported last week that 3,021 Afghans were killed in 2011, an 8 percent increase over 2010. The UN blamed insurgents for at least 2,332 of the deaths.

Scaparrotti linked the rise in  insurgent attacks on soft civilian targets to their inability to hit military ones, as other commanders have done in the past.

“You’ve got an enemy who has stated that he is concerned about the people, that he doesn’t want to harm the people in his actions, and yet over these years you’ve seen a steady increase in that happening,” Scaparrotti said.

His remarks countered a dim assessment of the war from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who returned from a deployment to Afghanistan and told congressmen his observations countered the optimistic messages senior leaders deliver.

“What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground,” Davis wrote in Armed Forces Journal.

“Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

“Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level,” Davis wrote.

Scaparrotti suggested Davis had less information to pull from to make his assessment on the direction of the war.

“It’s one person’s view of this,” he said. ” From my personal point of view, I do a lot of battlefield circulation; I talk to commanders and soldiers; I have assessments from others, like my sergeant major that I put on the battlefield virtually every week to walk with both Afghan and coalition parts.  So I take in a lot of — a lot of data from many different places to determine my assessment, to include a very objective, detailed assessment we do every quarter.”So I’m confident that — in my personal view that our outlook is accurate,” Scaparrotti said.


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