A range of successes shows the surge strategy in Afghanistan has been effective, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters July 10.
“Let’s take stock of where we’ve been,” Little said in response to a reporter’s question on whether the surge had succeeded. “Over the past few years, we’ve taken the fight to the enemy. They’ve had to shift tactics because of our success … [and] the success of the Afghan national security forces and our [International Security Assistance Force] partners.”
Afghan forces have grown to 350,000 strong, and their capabilities are improving every day, Little added. He acknowledged that more work remains in Afghanistan. “It’s still a war, and challenges lie ahead,” he said.
Little noted progress outside the military aspect, citing improvements in literacy, economic development and Taliban fighters laying down their weapons and reintegrating into Afghan society.
“These are just some of the factors that point to the success, not just of the surge, but of the overall strategy the United States has laid out with our partners and with our Afghan allies,” Little said.
Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Defense Department spokesman, rejected criticism by some observers of the surge’s focus on southern Afghanistan.
“I’ve seen these arguments that some people believe that moving the Marines into Helmand [province] and the hinting that the bulk of the surge being in the south and around Kandahar wasn’t the right approach,” he said. “All I would say to that is, even looking back now, we can say certainly that it was.”
Kirby emphasized that at the outset of the surge, southern Afghanistan was “a very perilous place” for Afghans and the “heartland for the Taliban.”
“They were, before we moved the surge in, very much in control,” he said. “[They] showed no interest in ceding that territory. It’s been their historic homeland. So we pushed them largely out of the population centers of the south and the southwest, and it’s had an effect.”
Some of the fighting has migrated to the east, Kirby acknowledged, but he called it a “different kind of fight aided by safe havens on the other side of the border.”
“But the south is a vastly differently place [now],” he said. “It is no longer the heartland of the Taliban that it once was. So I would categorically refute the argument that the surge was not only the wrong decision, but that it was misplaced, physically [and] geographically. [I] absolutely don’t believe that at all.”
Little said the strategy has been successful, though imperfect.
“This strategy has been very effectively implemented,” he said. “Has it been done to perfection? No, that’s entirely impossible. But it’s been done very well, and we have learned lessons along the way and we have quickly adapted.
“This has been the right thing to do, and we have done it well,” he added.