By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 28, 2010 – Measurable progress has been achieved in Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktia provinces, but it is fragile, Army Col. Viet Luong, commander of the American task force in the area, said today.
Luong spoke to the Pentagon press corps via teleconference. The commander of the 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team also said that Afghan security forces in his area are operating independently.
Task Force Rakkasan’s mission –- Rakkasan is what the Japanese called the unit in 1945 –- is to protect the Afghan population and increase the capacity, capability and credibility of the Afghan national security forces in support of the Afghan government. This is counterinsurgency doctrine at its basics, the colonel said.
The unit took over its area of responsibility in February and will begin rotating back to Fort Campbell, Ky., shortly.
“In the last 11 months, we have seen gradual but measurable progress,” Luong said. “First and foremost, the combined coalition/Afghan national security forces team has taken approximately 2,000 fighters out of the fight.”
This security achievement has given local governance a chance to establish roots and begin serving the people. Afghan elders are taking part in regional shuras and in determining what projects are needed in their towns and villages, Luong said.
“Kids are now going to school, playing cricket, flying kites -– activities strictly forbidden under Taliban rule. To me, it's a subtle sign,” he said.
Luong is hearing from the Afghan people that the improved security is making a difference. “More importantly, for the first time, they’re feeling that the provincial government is now working for the people,” he said. “In short, while fragile, we’re seeing progress across the board in Paktia and Khost.”
However, the enemy has a vote, Luong said, noting the main enemy in his area is the Haqqani network.
“I can tell you that at least in Paktia, Paktika and Khost [provinces], the Haqqani network is sort of on its heels,” he said. “We have captured and killed many, many of their fighters and mid-level leaders. The senior leadership routinely hides in the tribal areas in Pakistan now for the fear of being captured or killed.”
Meanwhile, Luong said, coalition and Afghan forces are keeping the pressure on the terrorist network.
“We have increased fourfold … the number of operations and patrols, up to 12,000 in the last year, with 600 named operations,” the colonel said.
Luong said the Haqqani insurgents have changed their tactics due to their losses of trained fighters and mid-level leaders.
“Lately the trend has been assassination, because that’s all they can resort to doing to target a very, very vulnerable Afghan officials,” Luong said. The terrorists also are responsible for a tremendous number of civilian casualties. The Haqqani plant roadside bombs and mines and launch indirect-fire attacks primarily against civilians.
“That's about all they can do at this stage,” he said.
Luong said his unit also has responsibility for more than 250 kilometers of Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. The colonel has met with Pakistani officials opposite the Rakkasans and was working to coordinate operations with Pakistani units.
Unfortunately, he said, the monsoon rains pummeled Pakistan, and many Pakistani soldiers who would have participated in such border operations were assigned to the humanitarian mission.
“I know up north up in Nangarhar, Lowgar … they were able to reach complementary operations,” Luong said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to replicate down here.”
The unit that replaces the Rakkasans -– the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team -– will take up that task.