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Afghan troops doing well but still need support: Shoffner

AT Monitoring Desk-KABUL: An American general the other day acknowledged that though the Afghan security forces were fully responsible for the country’s security, they still need and deserve the support of US and coalition forces.

US Army Brig. Gen. Wilson Shoffner from Afghanistan’s Resolute Support mission pointed out to the issue of Daesh in the country, and said that although they are present they are not at the point where they can conduct operations like those in Iraq and Syria.

However, he said: “We do note the potential for them to evolve into something more dangerous … and we take that very seriously.”

In a telephonic briefing to the Pentagon press corps from Kabul, Shoffner said the Afghan forces have “definitely been tested this fighting season, but they’re holding their own and they have demonstrated their courage and resilience. Every day we see the remarkable men and women of the Afghan security forces, all of whom are volunteers, continuing to put their lives on the line to protect their people and their country.”

However he said that it is clear that Afghanistan still needs “broad support, and that’s one of the reasons why the Resolute Support mission remains critical.”

He also said there were “capability gaps” in close air support, aviation, intelligence and logistics, and that the fighters will require help “over the next few years.”

The general said Afghan forces have learned hard lessons but achieved significant results during the current fighting season.

“They’ve conducted deliberate, planned operations that are well resourced and they’ve performed very well,” Shoffner said.

“We’ve seen this starting in January in Helmand province, we saw that in Zabul province and Ghazni and we’ve seen that in the last two weeks in Nangarhar province.”

In the meantime, he said, “whenever they employ their forces hastily or do so in an uncoordinated manner — and by that I mean the army doesn’t coordinate with the police … or with air or fire support — they’re far less effective.”

In terms of security in Afghanistan, the general said the number of enemy-initiated attacks for 2015 is eight percent lower than it was last year, but Afghanistan is experiencing an increase in the use of homemade bombs and high-profile Taliban attacks in Kabul.

“Kabul remains an area of strategic importance for the insurgency as a symbol of the government of Afghanistan’s authority,” he said. “The attacks are an attempt to garner widespread coverage that … leads to a perception that the Afghan government is unable to provide adequate security.”

Shoffner said the Afghan government has a delegation in Pakistan, “and we’re watching that closely, we’re watching the Taliban closely.”

He said the Taliban, many of whom are Afghans, have an opportunity now to strike for peace with the Afghan government and rebuild their own lives in Afghanistan.

“We stand with the international community and support any outcome that the Taliban or any armed opposition group may use to pledge to end violence, to break associations with international terrorism and to accept the Afghan constitution,” Shoffner said.

In response to a query about Daesh in Afghanistan, Shoffner said their presence is an issue of great concern to the Afghan government.

He added that Daesh is also an issue of great concern to the coalition, saying that the coalition and Afghanistan share intelligence and information on Daesh.

“We categorize [Daesh] in Afghanistan as operationally emergent,” the general said. “We do not see them as having operational capabilities so we do not see them as having the ability to coordinate operations in more than one part of the country at a time. We do have reports of them operating in different parts of the country but not in a coordinated fashion.”

Shoffner said that some funding is flowing to Daesh in Afghanistan, but not a significant amount, and that their capabilities are increasing but not to the point where they can conduct the sort of operations they are responsible for in Iraq and Syria.

“We do note the potential for them to evolve into something more dangerous,” he added, “and we take that very seriously.”

Shoffner also said there is some fighting in Afghanistan between Daesh and the Taliban.

“Usually this is a result of Daesh incursion into Taliban territory and interfering with established Taliban operations,” he said, noting that fighting between the groups has been seen in Nangarhar province, northern Helmand and elsewhere, with the most intense fighting in Nangarhar.

“It’s a problem because it’s a destabilizing influence. Unfortunately the victims are Afghan civilians, so that’s a security issue that we are committed to helping the Afghan government resolve,” he said.

In conclusion, Shoffner said: “Daesh and terrorism pose a common threat to all the states in this region, so it’s not just an Afghan problem, it’s a regional problem [and] we support the government of Afghanistan … to work with other national partners to contain and dismantle this threat.”

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