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.
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.
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.