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ISAF Chief Pledges Reinforcements Ahead of Election

General Jean-Louis Py discusses preparations for the upcoming presidential election and the expanding role of the international security assistance and reconstruction force.
By Abdul Baseer

On August 9, exactly two months before the country's critical presidential elections, Lieutentant-General Jean-Louis Py took command of NATO's International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, in Afghanistan.


ISAF, one of two military formations operating in Afghanistan, is a security assistance force under the command of NATO. Operation Enduring Freedom is the United States-led military operation whose primary role is combat - rooting out al-Qaeda and Taleban elements that remain in the country


In addition to its responsibility for assisting in providing security in Kabul, ISAF is in command of five northern Provincial Reconstruction Teams, PRTs. These generally comprise about 120 people - including soldiers and civilians - and operate as both a security force and a reconstruction team, a combination seen by some as controversial.


By the middle of this year, there were more than 16 PRTs operating across Afghanistan. ISAF is expanding the number of PRTs in what is now its area of operation in the north. PRTs in the south, east and west are under the command of the US-led Coalition.


IWPR reporter Abdul Baseer met Py at ISAF headquarters late last month for an exclusive interview.


Q. What kind of preparations have you made for the forthcoming elections?


A. The first thing I would say is that there is a tremendous expectation for the elections in Afghanistan. The voter registration has been a tremendous success and showed the real will of the people of Afghanistan to have a strong central government.


The general structure of organisation for the election is as follows: The Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan is responsible for the election and gets technical support from the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan [UNAMA]; ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom will support the whole process and increase general security. For ISAF, increasing general security means first reinforcing its forces.


Therefore, we will have an additional company in each PRT. We will also have one quick-reaction company [an American force] in Kabul.


We will also have one Spanish quick-reaction battalion in [the northern town of] Mazar-e-Sharif and a reserve composed of one Italian battalion in Kabul. In addition, we will have additional air assets - more helicopters, more transport airplanes and more fighter jets.


We are currently planning the whole organisation with UNAMA and the Joint Election Management Body. The problem is to increase the general level of security in the country and we are looking at how we are going to provide that.


Q. Can you describe the history of PRTs?


A. The first thing we did was to open a pilot for the PRT in Kunduz. The aim of the PRT is to relay the action of the central government to the provinces. So therefore we made a pilot project to see if the concept was good.


The second aim of the PRT is to support efforts of the international community in terms of reconstruction.


Therefore, we have also to deploy forces in order to assure the security of these PRTs and to liaise with the local commanders in order to stabilise the military situation.


Q. We have a ministry for reconstruction, and there are plenty of aid organisations - NGOs [non-government organisations] - involved in reconstruction work. Why don't you allow the government and NGOs to do reconstruction, while ISAF focuses solely on a military role, on security?


A. [Each PRT] has two heads, a military and a civilian one. The civilian head is in charge of liaising with local authorities to see what are the main needs of the population. And therefore, the PRT is co-ordinating with NGOs on different projects.


Q. Why were PRTs deployed in some provinces and not in others?


A. The first operation in Afghanistan was Operation Enduring Freedom. The nations of the Coalition participated in this operation, led by the US.


It was decided afterwards to share the burden of the operation between Coalition and NATO. The first step was... when NATO took [over responsibility for security in] Kabul. And it was recently decided to expand the operation in four stages to the rest of Afghanistan.


The first stage of the expansion consisted in taking control of four provinces of the region of Kunduz and the five provinces of the region of Mazar-e-Sharif. This is what we have just achieved. That is, [around Kunduz] Badakhshan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar; and the five provinces around Mazar-e-Sharif: Balkh, Faryab, Saripul, Samangan, and Jowzjan.


Q. The Coalition forces working against the Taleban are a fighting force; ISAF is a peacekeeping force. Do they work jointly?


A. We are coordinating our efforts with the Coalition. We both want to support the Transitional State of Afghanistan. But if you look at the situation in Afghanistan today, you will find that in my areas of responsibility - the nine provinces I told you about and in Kabul, - the situation is generally calm.


And if you look at the southern section of Afghanistan, the situation is still troubled. This is why the Coalition has to fight against the Taleban there.


Q. Coalition forces supported the Afghan National Army when it intervened to halt fighting between two local commanders, Amanullah and [Governor] Ismael Khan, in Herat, but ISAF has refused to intervene in [its area of operation] in a dispute between Atta Mohammed and General Abdul Rashid Dostum in Mazar-Sharif. Can you explain the different policies?


A. [Herat] is not in my area of responsibility. And in Mazar, if I'm not wrong, Dostum is now running for the presidency, and Dostum and Atta have decided that they will not fight, at least during the election period.


May I underline that General Atta is now governor of the province of Balkh, and therefore a representative of the central government?


Q. How many troops do you have in theatre and how many do you expect by the time of the [presidential] election?


I have told you about the capabilities and reinforcements for the elections. We are still in the process of adding more equipment. What I've told you is what I am sure will be here.


Up to now, we have 7,500 forces deployed. I can't give you a figure for the number by October 9. The process is not one of counting people; it's a process of planning, assessing the requirements we have; turning then to NATO and asking for the forces we need for our mission; and then the NATO nations providing these resources. So I can't give you a figure because this process is not finished. All I know is the capabilities I require will nearly all be filled, but there are still some additional offers coming in.


Abdul Baseer is a staff reporter with IWPR in Kabul.


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