Don't Miss the Forest for the Trees
Given the challenges in Afghanistan, the progress that ISAF and their Afghan partners continue to make is monumental. This progress, however, is not widely reflected in much of the coverage we see about Afghanistan. In fact, most of the stories in the media highlight the instances of violence along with the dozens of other challenges ISAF, the ANSF and the people of Afghanistan face every day.
General Philip Breedlove (left), Supreme Allied Commander Europe, met with Minister Mujtaba Patang, Minister of Interior, at the Ministry for Interior building, Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 22, 2013.
1 photo: General Philip Breedlove, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, met with Minister Mujtaba Patang, Minister of Interior, at the Ministry for Interior building, Kabul, Afghanistan
Photo 1 of 1: General Philip Breedlove (left), Supreme Allied Commander Europe, met with Minister Mujtaba Patang, Minister of Interior, at the Ministry for Interior building, Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 22, 2013. Download full-resolution version
As I reflect on my first visit as SACEUR to Afghanistan this past week I am tremendously impressed with the commitment and professionalism of the ISAF and Afghan troops I met there. The work they do and the sacrifices they make every day are astonishing. Given the challenges in Afghanistan, the progress that ISAF and their Afghan partners continue to make is monumental. This progress, however, is not widely reflected in much of the coverage we see about Afghanistan. In fact, most of the stories in the media highlight the instances of violence along with the dozens of other challenges ISAF, the ANSF and the people of Afghanistan face every day. It is understandable that some who focus on these incidents can come away uncertain whether the efforts and sacrifices made over the past 12 years have been worthwhile. To these people I would suggest they take a step back and take a look at the larger picture before making a judgment about the current and future state of affairs in Afghanistan.
 
Consider the ground on which the people of Afghanistan stood over a decade ago; firmly held under the thumbscrews of the Taliban government. Afghanistan was a breeding ground for international terrorism that threatened nations across the globe. Today, the Taliban remains a threat but it continues to be degraded thanks to the relentless pressure put on them by the Afghan security forces. This capability ensures that Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists.
 
For more than a decade ISAF has battled to fight the extremist organisations that once plagued the nation, creating the space and time available for the Afghan national security forces to grow and take on the fight. It has helped the Afghan government to crawl out from Taliban control and stand freely on its own two feet.
 
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General Philip Breedlove (left), Supreme Allied Commander Europe, met with Minister Mujtaba Patang, Minister of Interior, at the Ministry for Interior building, Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 22, 2013.

 
Afghanistan is a nation that is being progressively built, secured, and maintained by the Afghan people. NATO and ISAF have served as a scaffolding of sorts which has enabled Afghans to rebuild their structures. But as those structures near completion, the scaffolding is being carefully removed, leaving the finished product to stand freely.
 
Next year Afghanistan will hold elections, a major milestone as the country moves forward. Today, Afghan National Security Forces plan, lead, and implement over 87% of security missions throughout Afghanistan, providing security for nearly 90% of the population. Within the coming weeks we will see Afghan security forces taking the lead for security across the country. These are big picture facts.
 
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Soldiers of Company C "Chaos”, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, Combined Task Force 4-2 and Weapons Company, 6th Kandak, 205th Afghan National Army prepare to load onto a CH-47 Chinook helicopter May 4 near the Kheybari Ghar ridgeline in the Panjwa’i District of Afghanistan

 
Have there been stumbling blocks along the way? Yes, and there is certainly much more work to do in the coming months. But as NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated, Afghanistan is worth the cost. In our ever-shrinking and globalised world, the security of our own nations is inextricably linked to the stability of other regions, which is one reason why an enduring commitment in Afghanistan is important. Another reason is that the sweat and sacrifice of the ISAF contributing nations and the ANSF has given the people of Afghanistan the opportunity to build on progress already made and to secure their future. It is now within their grasp and soon will be fully in their hands.
 
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General Philip Breedlove (2nd from left), Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and General Joseph Dunford (left), Commander ISAF, met with Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi (2nd from right), Minister for Defence, and General Sher Karimi (right), Chief of Defence, at the Ministry for Defence building, Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 22, 2013.

 
This does not mean, however that Afghans will be left to stand alone.
 
The completion of the ISAF mission at the end of 2014 will not mean the end of NATO and international commitment to the security of the Afghan people. NATO members all agreed at a 2012 summit in Chicago to continue to support Afghan security well after 2014. Named "Resolute Support", this new NATO mission will focus on the training, advising and assisting of Afghan security forces.
 
So when the headlines point out the daily stumbling blocks and challenges in front of ISAF, ANSF and Afghan people, try to remember to keep perspective and to not miss the forest for the trees. Here are a few more facts about Afghanistan that don't always make the front page:
  • 32,000 kilometres of improved and built roads
  • Afghan GDP expanding at a rate of over 7% a year
  • 70% of the Afghan population use mobile phones
  • 175 FM radio stations, 75 TV channels, and at least 7 daily newspapers
  • Over 8 million children attend school; more than a third are girls
  • Afghanistan has rapidly and consistently improved every year for a decade in the areas of health, education and living standards
  • Life expectancy is continuing to rise
  • Afghan Forces currently lead 95% of security missions
  • Afghans provide security for about 90% of the population, 100% soon
  • Afghanistan's army is rapidly developing fighting and enabling capabilities to include military police, intelligence, medical, aviation, and logistics
  • The Afghan Air Force has 48 Mi-17 Helicopters with 12 more expected by fall of this year

These facts are just some highlights of the monumental and fundamental changes that have taken place across Afghanistan in the last ten years. Of course there will be more challenges but our support for Afghan security remains steadfast and will remain so through 2014 and beyond. With his instruments, a fighter pilot can see lots of details on the battlefield but he always keeps an eye on the bigger picture and the surrounding area. This ensures he doesn't miss the forest.

 
"From the Cockpit"
 
 
Phil Breedlove
General, USAF
Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
Commander, U.S. European Command
 
 
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