Much has been written in the past week regarding Nato’s ongoing efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan. It is clear to me that the coalition of 50 nations with troops in Afghanistan today will face formidable challenges over the next few years. However, there has been measurable and substantial progress in three specific areas.
First and foremost, Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists, which was a primary goal of Nato member states. Second, Nato forces in Afghanistan have been training and operating alongside Afghan national security forces (ANSF) for many years now, and these efforts are delivering tangible results. Three-quarters of Afghan citizens now live in areas increasingly protected by Afghan army and police – who number today close to 350,000.
Indeed, the capability and confidence of the ANSF has improved markedly over the last 18 months, to the point where it is making significant gains in the fight against the Taliban. As a result, this has been a particularly difficult summer for the insurgency, which has seen the elimination of two top-level commanders in the past few days alone. Over the next 28 months this progress will be expanded and solidified, so that the Afghan government will be fully in the lead for security by the end of 2014. This effort is on track and will succeed.
Thirdly, the entire international community has made specific pledges to partner with Afghanistan over the long-term. At the recent Tokyo conference on Afghanistan, over 80 nations made significant commitments to finance the ANSF beyond 2014, and a generous programme of development and support will continue over the next four years.
Afghan society is changing for the better every day. Today, there are more than 8 million children in 15,000 schools across Afghanistan, up from less than 1 million under the Taliban. Of the 8 million, 37% are girls; and of the 175,000 teachers, 30% are women. Mobile phones number over 18m, up from essentially zero under the Taliban. The economy has been growing by 5% annually for the past five years.
At the recent Chicago summit, heads of state and government also confirmed that Nato will stay involved in Afghanistan (in a much smaller but vital training and mentoring role) post-2014, and planning is ongoing now to fulfil that commitment. All of these efforts will provide a firm platform of security and governance upon which the people and government of Afghanistan can build.
I have no doubt that there will still be difficult days ahead. Recent attacks conducted from within the Nato-Afghan security partnership are certainly troubling. That is why we are taking concrete action to ensure we reduce the potential for these incidents in the future. But to put this issue in context, the vast majority of our soldiers continue to have a very different experience on the ground. Every day, over 100,000 coalition forces work successfully alongside their 350,000 ANSF counterparts without incident. The vast majority confirm a solid rapport between partners, and many call each other friends. Side-by-side, Afghan and international security assistance force troops are working to build lasting peace and stability for the people of Afghanistan.
Challenges still lie ahead for our mission here, but the progress in terms of expanding and professionalising the ANSF is indisputable. We are executing this plan together with the Afghans, who are steadily taking charge, and we remain committed to following through with financial and training support post-2014. For these and many other reasons I firmly believe that, despite the many challenges, we will succeed in Afghanistan.
Admiral James Stavridis is Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe.