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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hold the Front Page

Andrew Drwiega

While military rotorcraft news will always be the main theme running through this newsletter, our military and defense industry readers are also hungry for information, comment and news of events that help to shape the structure and influence the deployment of rotorcraft forces worldwide, now and in the future. To this end, I make no apologies about occasionally broadening this column out to cover wider defense issues, and particularly those that shape strategic thinking and decision making, such as updates on current operations, in particular Afghanistan.

In this issue, I will highlight some of the points made by General David Petraeus, commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) on Friday 15 October during an address to members the UK’s Royal United Services Institute, London.
General Petraeus was upbeat when talking about process recently made over the course of the year: “We are now seeing the early results of our efforts though we've clearly had tough fighting.” Over the last 18 months there had been a focus on getting “the inputs right in Afghanistan: to build the organizations that are, as we learned in Iraq, necessary for a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign; to get the right leaders in charge of those organizations; to develop the necessary civil-military concepts and plans; and to deploy the additional forces, civilians, and funding needed to enable the execution of those plans.”

Petraeus confirmed that progress was now being made, especially in central Helmand. He cited the recent success in the city of Marjah which, at the beginning of the year had been “an insurgent command and control centre, an improvised explosive device hub, and a nexus for illegal narcotics industry activities.” Now, he said, security was returning to protect the local people, schools were being opened, markets were doing business and military and civilian responsibilities within the community were on the increase.

As this writer discovered on my visit to Camp Bastion in May, the obvious difference that the surge was beginning to make then, is now resulting in tangible and measurable progress on the ground as witnessed by those trying to establish a fledgling national infrastructure out of very little. Before the surge, there was a big need to increase ‘boots on the ground’ and to substantially increase the number of deliberate operations to rock the Taliban into a defensive, rather than offensive, posture. The arrival of the US Marines in Helmand grabbed that task with both hands.

Petraeus had been in Afghanistan several years prior to taking full command during the summer. In September 2005 he visited on his way back to the US after his second tour in Iraq. Half a decade ago he had concluded that “Afghanistan would likely be the longest campaign of what we then called the long war. It was clear even then - at a time of relatively low levels of violence - that the numerous challenges facing Afghanistan would preclude rapid progress.”

But now he is armed with facts and figures to prove that progress has indeed been made since 2003: Afghanistan’s GDP has tripled from $4 billion to over $13 billion; the number of citizens with access to the electricity grid has also tripled; five million Afghan refugees have returned home in nine years; the population of Kabul has boomed from one million to five million people.

Despite this success however, Petraeus sounded a cautionary note saying that “no one should have any illusions about how difficult the fight will continue to be...” and that the gains were “hard fought.” But this progress was encouraging and ultimately these continuing improvements would lead to the accomplishment of NATO/ISAF’s strategic objectives.

I hope you enjoy this second edition of the Military Insider newsletter.

By Andrew Drwiega
Military Editor

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