- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2011

When the United States surged an additional 30,000 troops into Afghanistan, they were met by 79,000 new Afghan soldiers and police. Together, the combined force of 150,000 NATO troops and 270,000 Afghan national security forces formed the real Afghan surge. The effect has been dramatic. Insurgent strongholds are being cleared in Helmand, Kandahar and Kunduz provinces; local militias are integrating into the formal security structure; commerce is returning; and schools are opening. Troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of Afghanistan even hold regular meetings.

Progress is fragile, but the Afghan surge is real.

The media often miss this Afghan surge by focusing on the efforts of U.S. forces, but Afghan security forces are fighting and dying alongside American and coalition forces at a rate 1 1/2 times greater. We train and fight shoulder to shoulder. Just as we honor our fallen, we also must honor our Afghan partners who have given their lives. These fallen soldiers and police are respected as martyrs and remembered as heroes of Afghanistan.

An Afghan surge would not have been possible without the generous support of the international community. As November’s NATO Summit in Lisbon made clear, progress requires commitment to training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) through 2014 and sustaining an enduring partnership beyond 2014. At Lisbon, America’s partners sent a clear message that they were committed to helping Afghans build their future.

Progress is fragile, but the Afghan surge is real.

During the first year of its existence, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) focused on developing an infantry-centric force to meet the real needs of combat. NATO units are partnered with Afghan units at all levels. To make this possible, 20,000 Afghan National Army officers and soldiers are being trained every day. A new infantry battalion will be fielded every month until May.

Over the next two years, NTM-A is developing capabilities such as vehicle maintenance, aviation and logistics, which places the Afghan military on a path of self-sufficiency. With this investment in human capital, Afghans can use these vocational skills to develop their economy. This goal is consistent with U.S. efforts to export security and meet the security needs of America’s allies, partners and new friends.

Progress is visible.

In just two short years, the Afghan National Army went from using substandard Soviet-era equipment to using high-quality NATO weapons. The result is evident in weapon-qualification rates, which have increased from 35 percent to 95 percent. Soldiers once unable to count or read are enrolled in mandatory literacy training. Soldiers now can account for the gear they are issued, know that they are receiving their full pay and inspire their families to study. Soldiers who received substandard pay subjected to graft now receive a living wage through electronic banking. They look like soldiers, and they behave like soldiers.

And the Afghan people notice.

In an Asia Foundation poll in November, 92 percent of Afghans said they viewed the Afghan National Army favorably, while 84 percent said they viewed the police favorably. To be sure, there are regional differences, but with international support and training, Afghan soldiers and police support the rule of law. And the Afghan people increasingly trust and value their soldiers and police. This is evident in the approximately 6,000 Afghans who report to military recruiting stations every month, which is the surest sign that Afghans want to take charge of their future and relieve NATO forces.

The Afghan people’s appreciation and respect for their security forces remain steady as we begin to achieve major milestones in our mission for a stable, independent Afghan Security Force. Afghans are primarily responsible for the security of the 5 million people who live in the Kabul area, which is about 20 percent of the country’s population. And on March 21, President Hamid Karzai will take a concrete step on the transition path when he identifies the locations where Afghan forces will take over battlefield command from NATO forces. When this happens, the United States and its coalition partners will be on a path to fulfilling President Obama’s goal “that the Afghan people are able to determine their own fate.”

Derek S. Reveron is assigned to NTM-A and is a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College. His latest book is “Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military” (Georgetown University Press, 2010).