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Afghan Army Capabilities Evolving with Experience

Afghan Army Capabilities Evolving with Experience

Improvements needed in logistics, maintenance, oversight, U.S. commander says

Washington –- The Afghan National Army is composed of highly capable, motivated and courageous individuals, but the institution remains “a work in progress,” according to a U.S. military commander with first-hand experience.

U.S. Army Colonel Kevin Owens, who works with coalition forces throughout southern Afghanistan and commands the 173rd Airborne Brigade, says the professional Afghan army soldiers he knows have “an enormous sense of pride in what they do and why they do it.”

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon via a teleconference from his headquarters in Kandahar, he said Afghan citizens revere the new soldiers who have joined the army’s ranks, and they are thrilled that the army represents the tribes and ethnicities of the entire country.

In providing his assessment of the Afghan army, Owens also said there are a number of military functions that still need improvement, including logistical, maintenance and command-and-control systems. These are all functional areas with which the U.S. military is “working shoulder-to-shoulder with them to improve,” he said.

Owens commands Combined Task Force Bayonet -- which includes Romanian, Canadian and U.S. soldiers –- and is responsible for leading counterterrorism operations and supporting provincial reconstruction teams in the southern part of Afghanistan. They work very closely with Afghan national security forces to complete their missions. They also liaise with British, French, Australian, New Zealand and Dutch soldiers who serve in the south.

The Afghan people voted on September 18 without significant incident, he said, “due primarily to the excellent security provided by the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army.” Although his own soldiers were standing ready to respond if needed, Owens said they “were essentially unneeded due to the outstanding job performed by the Afghan forces.” (See Democratic Afghanistan.)

There were around a dozen minor security incidents, including some skirmishes that occurred around the time of the landmark election, but Owens said these “had absolutely no effect in deterring the population” from flocking to the polls. The elections were executed successfully, he said, because they were safe and free. He said he noted the enthusiasm of Afghans for the army and police officers that provided “a secure environment for them to vote.”

Working with their Afghan military counterparts, Owens said more enemy combatants were destroyed in the six months leading up to the elections than in the six months prior to that. By degrading the capabilities of enemy combatants significantly, he said, “I’m also confident that we are starting to gain irreversible momentum.”

Owens said he believes the enemy “is reeling” from recent combat action. During the time that his soldiers have served in Afghanistan, he said, the enemy’s access to sanctuaries has been reduced, thereby disrupting “the enemy’s ability to conduct meaningful operations against the people of Afghanistan.”

He also said his forces are working to help restore basic infrastructure to the war-torn nation, especially in the areas of power generation, access to potable water and reliable transportation. As an example, Owens said “our engineers are working and teaching Afghan army engineers how to build roads.” The point is to help “build Afghan capacity” to complete these critical tasks, the officer added.

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