'Afghan forces able to secure 95pc polling centres'
KABUL (PAN): NATO generals based in Afghanistan say the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have the ability to independently keep security for the April 5 presidential and provincial council elections and deal with next year’s fighting season.
They also believe the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, the Taliban and other hardliner groups could not reach the power again through violence, hinting at the possibility of securing 95 percent polling stations during the elections.
The NATO officials, who spoke to a group of Afghan journalists in Kabul a day earlier, included British Lt. Gen. John Lorimer, deputy ISAF commander, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley, Commander ISAF Joint Command IJC, and Deputy Commanding General US Force Afghanistan.
Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, Commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Dean J. Milner, Deputy Commanding General - Operations, NATO Training Mission, Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander, 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force, Afghanistan, and Deputy Commander Air , US Force Afghanistan.
They were unanimous in their view that the Afghan forces had improved a lot in terms of combat, weapons and equipment, as compared to the past.
Lt. Gen. John Lorimer said the final tranche of the security transition from NATO-led troops to the Afghans had already been launched, with the Afghan forces currently conducting most of operations on their own. In some areas, he said, ISAF only provided air support to the Afghan forces.
He said the Afghan police and army currently provided security for 80 percent of the country’s populations. He called recent operation by Afghan forces in the Azra district of Logar and the Hesarak district of Nangarhar as successful, saying ISAF contributed little to the offensive.
Lorimer insisted the Afghan forces had the ability to deal with next year’s fighting season, keep security for the upcoming elections and make the security transition a success.
He said the strength of Afghan forces had reached 350,000, but the focus remained on their capabilities.
ISAF has been cooperating with the Afghan ministries of defence, interior and others in planning operations and other programmes and areas, he said.
The deputy ISAF commander said the Afghan forces could face some challenges in the future, but they would be able to cope with them.
He particularly mentioned the next year’s spring offensive, saying the Afghan forces were poised well to deal with the threat. He also said they would assist the Afghan government in the political transition, but stopped short of giving details.
For his part, US Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said the insurgents had lost the ability of direct attacks and they were heavily reliant on roadside bombs.
He said only 12 percent areas of Afghanistan were affected by the insurgency and the security situation in the rest was comparatively better.
“The armed opposition forces cannot physically challenge the Afghan government,” he said, adding the Haqqani group, the Taliban and other hardliners could not regain power through the conflict.
He said the Afghan forces would prove their worth in the next fighting season, adding he was 100 percent sure the Afghan forces were able to keep security for the 2014 elections.
Maj. Gen. Scott Miller said Afghanistan has 13,000 Special Forces and 22,000 local police personnel in addition to commando units and others.
He said the Afghan forces had been successful so far in operations conducted by them, saying the Special Forces gave much importance to countering terror activities and drugs.
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach rejected some media reports casting doubts on the ability of Afghan forces, saying the forces had improved a lot and were well-trained.
He said the strength of Afghan air force has reached 6835, including 33 women, and the target was 8,000 in numbers.
The Afghan air force possessed 26 C-208 and 47 ME-17 helicopters, five ME-35 aircrafts and would receive two C-130 aircrafts by the end of this year.
About increasing casualties among Afghan forces, Lt. Gen. Mark A. Milley said it was because they conducted most operations on their own, saying joint efforts were being made to reduce the casualties.
About the operation in Sherzad district, he said there had been some problems, but rejected dozens of security men had been killed during the offensive.
About the Hesarak operation, he said the Afghan defence minister, who visited the area to closely monitor the situation, observed the area had been secured.
To a question about security of the elections, Lorimer said they had launched work jointly with Afghan forces on a security plan in this regard.
“We are working jointly, but the Afghan interior and defence ministries will be in the lead,” he said.
He also said it was possible that security would be maintained for 95 percent of polling stations during the presidential and provincial council election.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.