WASHINGTON – A top U.S. general highlighted Wednesday the NATO-led coalition’s successes in Afghanistan, but he didn’t directly refute claims made in a high-profile military journal article that openly criticized the current strategy.
Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, said Afghan security forces played a growing role in security gains the past seven months.
The forces’ ability to fight independently is central to an accelerated withdrawal strategy — announced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Feb. 1 — that would end America’s combat mission as soon as 2013.
“Our strategy remains focused,” said Scaparrotti, a three-star general who is second-in-command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “We’ve got the right plan. We’ve got the momentum.”
Scaparrotti’s optimism regarding joint command strategy comes in the wake of a scathing Armed Forces Journal article asserting the Pentagon is painting too rosy a picture of Afghanistan security. The Monday report, written by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, says the current U.S.-led battle plan lacks “success on virtually every level.”
“How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?” wrote Davis, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan. “No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan. But we do expect — and the men who do the living, fighting and dying deserve — to have our leaders tell us the truth about what’s going on.”
Davis’ article describes the deep distrust the U.S. and its allies hold for Afghan forces. And it comes only a week after the House Armed Services Committee examined a leaked report detailing 45 attacks on NATO forces since 2007 by supposedly friendly Afghan soldiers.
Scaparrotti said at a Pentagon news briefing Wednesday that he doesn’t doubt the truth of Davis’ account, which calls the performance of native troops “abysmal.” But he added that the description only details isolated incidents, not the full range of Afghan security progress.
The Afghan National Security Force, which numbers more than 300,000 troops, leads 30 percent of its own patrols, according to the joint command.
Though native soldiers aren’t trained to the level of American forces, Scaparrotti said, that doesn’t mean they can’t stand up to a weakened Taliban.
Afghan security forces now conduct more than two-thirds of their own training, according to military officials. Their improvement – coupled with the continued NATO presence – has led to a nine percent decrease in Taliban offensive action since last year, Scaparrotti said.
“The Afghans are increasingly taking the lead,” he said. “These soldiers will fight…I know that. They’ll be good enough.”
The U.S.-led coalition plans to shift toward advisory and instructor roles as it gradually transfers security objectives to the Afghan military. The Pentagon intends to withdraw all U.S. troops by the end of 2014, including 23,000 of its currently 91,000-strong force by September.
Despite continued support of the current strategy from military officials, however, Davis’ controversial report has led to growing scrutiny on Capitol Hill of U.S. involvement. Three congressmen who spoke with Davis – two Democrats and a Republican – gave floor speeches Wednesday calling for both increased military transparency and a more accelerated withdrawal.
Congress must “awaken from its sleep on Afghanistan,” according to Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. He added that policymakers must stop accepting Pentagon information at face value, expressing doubt in the military’s current plan to transfer security to native forces.
“Congress, ask the right questions,” Jones said. “Stop listening to those who keep telling you that training of Afghan soldiers…is going well. I’m on the Armed Services Committee and I’ve been hearing that for 10 years. You can teach a monkey to ride a bicycle sooner than 10 years.”