In an interview on the CBS program “60 Minutes” last night, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan said he takes his mission personally and is angered by insider attacks by Afghan security forces and militants wearing Afghan uniforms.
“I’m mad as hell about them, to be honest with you,” Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told CBS correspondent Lara Logan. “We’re going to get after this. It reverberates everywhere across the United States. We’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.”
The general said it is important to understand the Afghan people still support ISAF troops and their mission to guide Afghan troops as they prepare to take full responsibility for security in their country.
“The key point is for us to understand that the vast majority of the Afghans, … they’re with us in this,” Allen said. “They understand right now the severity of this problem and the urgency of what’s happening.”
Afghans have been killed trying to save coalition forces when some attacks have been under way,” the general noted. “[It] was the only reaction that they could have taken … to try to save us at that moment of attack,” he said.
More than 50 coalition members have been killed by insider attacks this year. Allen said insurgents recognize the vulnerability posed as coalition forces work alongside Afghan counterparts, and they have adapted their tactics to exploit it.
“In Iraq, the signature weapon system that we hadn’t seen before was the [improvised explosive device],” he said. “We had to adjust to that. Here, I think the signature attack that we’re beginning to see is going to be the insider attack.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also interviewed in the segment, acknowledged the attacks and pledged to help ISAF eliminate the threat. “These attacks are sad,” he said. “This is something I have discussed in detail, something that I bear responsibility for to correct.”
Allen also discussed the presence of al-Qaida and ISAF’s commitment to continuing to “target and eliminate them.”
“Al-Qaida has come back, [and] is a resilient organization,” he said. “But they’re not here in large numbers. But al-Qaida doesn’t have to be anywhere in large numbers.”
The terrorist organization is not significant in a traditional military sense, Allen said. “Al-Qaida has significance beyond its numbers, frankly,” he added. “And so for us, our 24-hour-a-day objective is to seek out those al-Qaida cells.”
It is important to ensure al-Qaida doesn’t feel as though it can put down roots in Afghanistan, the general said, and while security isn’t perfect around the country, there has been much improvement.
“An awful lot of the population of this country is living in an area where there is vastly improved security from where it was just a few years ago,” he said.
Meanwhile, Allen said, coalition officials are doing a great deal to address terrorist safe havens in Pakistan, and the relationship between ISAF forces and the Pakistani military has improved dramatically.
“There’s a very complex relationship with Pakistan, and we’ll work very hard and very closely with the Pakistani military to achieve common objectives,” he said. “But to some extent, the Pakistani military has been successful in cooperating with us in the last several months with regard to complementary operations on both sides of the border, but much more needs to be done.”
ISAF is doing everything it can within its authority to hunt down and kill Haqqani network operatives in Afghanistan who “ultimately threaten my troops, threaten the Afghan troops and the Afghan society, the Afghan civilians, and ultimately the Afghan government,” Allen said.
The general also described his intense commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, which he said often leads him to “turn around and go back” to work some nights after asking himself while he’s walking home if he’s done enough.
“I came here believing this would be the last job I’d ever have,” Allen said. “I don’t care about anything beyond this. This is what’s important to me. I almost can’t remember ever having been anywhere else.
“This is completely consuming for me, and I am dedicated 24 hours a day to these magnificent troops, to the Afghans, to this cause, and ultimately to successful completion,” he continued. “This is very personal to me. And I take it very personally.”