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3-star: 'The fighting season is not over'

IED attacks are down, but small arms and suicide vests remain a problem

Jul. 19, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
New IJC commander visits Regional Command (South)
Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, head of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, greets Maj. Gen. Abdul Raziq, police chief of Kandahar province. Anderson says Afghan forces are tired but remain aggressive. (Sgt. Antony S. Lee/Army)
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Soldiers patrol with Afghan police earlier this year near Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

By the numbers

94 Number of bases closed or transferred in the past year.
60,000 Number of containers that have left theater in the past year.
$318 million Estimated value of equipment transferred to the Afghans in the past year.

The U.S. military continues to draw down in preparation for the end of its combat mission in December, but the fight in Afghanistan is not over, the No. 2 American commander there tells Army Times.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding general of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and the XVIII Airborne Corps, outlined the progress that’s being made by Afghan forces and the way ahead for U.S. troops there during a July 7 phone interview.

Excerpts from the discussion, edited for space and clarity:

Q. Could you give us an update on conditions on the ground?

A. We’re in Ramadan, so it’s quieter. Yesterday [July 6], the total number of incidents around the country was 20. We’ve been averaging lower than normal attacks, in the range in the 30s per day. In most cases, that’s more than half as much as last year.

The [Afghan forces] did a good job with the election — now the question becomes, how do they posture and get ready for the fighting season resumption in August and September?

They’ve been very aggressively, actively involved in countering threats. They’re stretched, they’re tired, there’s been a lot of equipment damaged and needs to be replaced, but for this calendar year, the advantage goes to the [Afghan National Security Forces].

Q. What types of attacks are coalition and Afghan forces seeing lately?

A. [Improvised explosive device] numbers are down. In the case of the police, more police are dying due to small arms fire than they are to IEDs.

Rockets continue, 107mm rockets continue to be an issue but they’re not casualty-producing.

Suicide vests have been a problem here, and direct fire has been more of a problem.

Q. How would you describe the enemy?

A. What’s clear is they were very frustrated by the lack of effectiveness back on April 5 [during the election].

With respect to the Taliban, there were numerous leadership changes. There’s clearly a challenge within their ranks of what their strategy should be. They’re challenged by the ANSF.

But my message to our partners is the fighting season is not over. We’ve got plenty of months ahead here. Wishing this thing away or thinking it’s over, that would be very premature.

Q. Can you talk about the retrograde of equipment and gear and how that’s coming along?

A. It’s been a non-stop process since, essentially, a year ago.

In the past year, 94 bases have been closed or transferred, and we’re down to 63.

Rolling stock, we’ve moved over 16,000 pieces in the past year with about 5,000 remaining to redeploy or retrograde.

About 1.4 million pieces of non-rolling stock have been redeployed, retrograded or divested. We have about 420,000 pieces to go.

In the past year, almost 60,000 containers have departed theater. About $318 million worth of equipment has been transferred to the Afghans, and about 3,600 pieces of rolling stock and about 471 million pounds of other equipment have been destroyed.

Q. What’s next in terms of drawing down?

A. We’re going to go down to about 24 or so bases, and 1,200 20-foot containers remaining to go by the end of the year.

Right now, we’re on track.

Q. How about force structure? How is the U.S. drawing down?

A. We start transitioning to Train, Advise and Assist Commands, going from two-star [Regional Command] headquarters down to one-star and lower headquarters.

Regional Command-Capital makes the initial transition this week, followed by Regional Command-West in Herat, then Regional Command-North.

The two U.S.-run Regional Commands, RC-South transitions in October and RC-East in November.

RC-South just [changed command] from 4th Infantry Division to 1st Cavalry Division. The Cav will keep the mission and source the headquarters. RC-East will transition, and 10th Mountain will go home and TAAC-East will transfer to 3rd ID.

Q. How about troop numbers?

A. I can’t talk troop numbers, but we’re in the conversion. We’re going from unit-based to functionality-based assistance, moving to corps platforms in the north, west, south and east, and the merger of IJC with ISAF. The two big headquarters will merge.

And retrograde and redeployment will all continue to get to the number the president announced [Editor’s note: That’s 9,800 troops by early 2015].

What we don’t know is what NATO and partner nation troop contributions will be, and the [Bilateral Security Agreement] is still not signed, which is the document we need to have to make all this work, and the [Status of Forces Agreement] from the international community.

Q. Can you elaborate on the merger of ISAF and IJC?

A. That’s in the initial stages of occurring now.

This headquarters will [transfer authority] on Dec. 15, and IJC as we’ve known it now since 2009 will go away.

We’re in a series of condition-setting moves to consolidate the headquarters. One is in the ANSF sustainment arena. That function will transfer to ISAF by early August.

Yesterday, we converted [NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan] from a command to a directorate, and that will move to ISAF in October.

Then, the future operations function, which runs all the combined arms integration for the ANSF, will transfer in November, and the last thing we’ll move from IJC, in November and December, is the [joint operations center].

All the current operations, the day-to-day fighting, command and control, [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], casualty evacuation, air weapons teams, close-air support, all of that, the intel, will transfer from here to ISAF.

Across the IJC staff, about 80-something people will transfer to ISAF to be fillers on the staff in a variety of functions.

Q. What do the Afghans still need from the U.S.?

A. It’s still enablers. How do we keep enhancing intel-driven operations? That’s still a very important capability we’re working with them.

The things we still provide are close-air support, air weapons teams, we do still help with cas­evac, medevac, although they do a lot of it now.

About 83 percent is done by them by air or ground.

Intel, aviation, special operations, and we still help logistically here and there.

Q. What’s next? What can soldiers expect in the coming months?

A. It’s going to be a continuum of change, in everything we’ve described, from footprint reducing, the enablers reducing, to the level of partnership.

We’ve been in a support role, and by the end of the year the Afghans will have full security responsibility. That’s a major game-changer, but there’s still things to be done. The advising, mentoring is going to be what drives it to the finish line here in terms of enhancing their capabilities and sustainability.

The tactical day-to-day stuff, they’ve got it. The issue is what the platforms will do at the corps level. How do you enhance their processes and organizations? That’s a different level, a different tier, a different skill set than teaching someone how to land nav or apply a pressure bandage.

There are great people here, and they’re tackling it, and our partners are solid. They’re all contributing, and they’re doing what they can.

Our motto is “Make it matter,” and they’re making it matter.

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