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thedrifter
07-27-06, 03:53 PM
July 27, 2006

Pace tours Afghan bases, extends helping hand

By Gordon Lubold
Staff writer


KABUL, Afghanistan — This could be billed as the listening trip. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is on a whistle-stop tour through several bases in this country to find out what commanders on the ground need to secure and stabilize an increasingly violent country, nearly four years after the U.S. declared the Taliban had been defeated.

Pace, traveling with his senior enlisted advisor, Army Sgt. Maj. Joe Gainey, said he wants to learn more about what’s needed.


“How can I help?” Pace said, summing up what he hoped to get from the trip just before his C-17 cargo plane was about to land at the Kabul airport on Thursday.

Pace’s visit comes at a critical time. The Taliban appear to be making a comeback of sorts in the southern region, with more small arms and improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces and others than commanders have seen in the last several months.

At the same time, NATO forces are assuming more responsibility here. The alliance already operates in the northern and western regions of the country, and this month will take over in the south. Later this year, NATO forces are expected to assume control of the eastern region. Some observers in Washington have expressed doubt about the ability of NATO forces to effectively manage the violent southern region, at the same time that the fledgling Afghan government tries to govern outside of this capital.

But things are going well, Pace said, while acknowledging that the Taliban has been very active.

“There are certainly more Taliban presenting themselves in the battlefield than they have been for several months,” he said.

But Pace said the enemy poses only a short-term challenge for coalition forces, and will not be able to sustain the movement.

“They may be a day-to-day tactical problem for us, but we’re a long-term strategic problem for them,” the general said. “They can choose some battles, but they cannot take over this country again as long as we stick with the Afghan government.”

Pace is meeting with senior U.S., Afghan, coalition commanders and other U.S. officials on the ground in Kabul. He said they will brief him on the growth of the Afghan National Army, and U.S. and coalition operations as well as what NATO is doing to prepare for its new role in the south, which includes Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

In addition to helping revitalize the economy and the country’s infrastructure, another key to success here is to eradicate the healthy drug trade.

That’s a job the Afghan forces have attempted to take on, with U.S. and other coalition forces taking the back seat. American officials generally agree that the U.S. does not want to be seen as taking away the livelihood of the Afghan people. That leaves U.S. and coalition forces with the mission of creating a stable and secure environment to help the Afghans deal with the drug problem on their own.

Pace acknowledged, however, that he wants to hear more about what U.S. forces can do in Afghanistan to counter drug trafficking and the poppy trade, which is key to many farmers’ survival.

“It should primarily be an Afghan government responsibility,” he said. But he left open the door to exploring what else coalition forces can do.

“I’m going to listen on that,” he said.

Ellie