Taliban fighters are “back on their heels” and the U.S. military is making progress in training its local counterparts to take over security duties, but government corruption threatens hard-won gains in Afghanistan, Sen. Bob Casey (D.,Pa.) said Sunday.
“This can really compromise the whole mission if it’s not corrected,” Casey said in a telephone interview from Kabul, Afghanistan, where he is on a fact-finding mission. “Rooting out the corruption in their government has been the area of least progress. There’s got to be a change of culture, and that’s tough.”
Casey, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee with jurisdiction over Mideast policy, had six briefings Sunday on the security situation, reconstruction efforts and efforts to combat corruption, exemplified by the recent scandal over the Afghan national bank, which sustained $900 million in losses as government officials looted its assets. Casey also met with a group of women who are members of parliament and other Afghan leaders.
“The dynamic has changed” in Afghanistan, Casey said. “Last year you could make the case that the Taliban had the upper hand, but now you can make the case that they are back on their heels. It’s at worst a stalemate. The military has made great strides but it’s fragile.”
Meanwhile, with the U.S. scheduled to begin drawing down its troops in the country next spring, training of troops in the Afghan National Army and the police force has progressed, Casey said, with roughly 75 percent of the goal of training 95,000 soldiers and 157,000 police officers complete.
“Getting the training numbers up really will help us be able to transfer responsibility,” Casey said. “The key thing is you can’t train many of them without spending days on literacy, first and second grade skills.” The U.S. has taught tens of thousands of Afghans to read and count, he said.
Casey is traveling with Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D.,R.I.) and Michael Bennet (D.,Colo.) and Richard Blumenthal (D.,Conn.).