Here on the ground, U.S. and allied commanders express hopes that after coalition combat troops complete the handover for security to the Afghan government, "a sufficient number of our personnel will remain to advise, train and assist" their police and military to ensure stability. But everyone knows that will depend on decisions made in Washington and Kabul. And therein is the greatest source of angst for all who have sacrificed so much blood and treasure in the shadows of the Hindu Kush.
The precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq raises questions about whether a second Obama administration would vigorously pursue a status of forces agreement with Kabul. Absent such an accord, it would be highly unlikely that American military personnel would remain here long enough to help their Afghan counterparts build capacity to protect the country from internal and external threats.
Unfortunately, this uncertainty comes at a time when Afghan national security forces are experiencing an extraordinary improvement in capability, competence and skill. And no organization here typifies this change better than the Afghan Local Police.
Established in August 2010 by a presidential decree, the ALP has more than 16,000 officers and operates under the authority of Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior. It is now the first line of protection for the Afghan people. Deployed in 137 rural village stability operations throughout the country, ALP detachments, mentored by 60 special operations teams from 23 nations, are proving to be the most cost-effective measure yet taken in denying the Taliban safe haven and transit.
Candidates for the ALP program are selected by their local village and district leaders. After being vetted for reliability and commitment -- and trained for 21 days by U.S., coalition and Afghan professionals in how to "move, shoot, communicate and respect the civil rights of their neighbors" -- they become full-fledged members of their "hometown civil defense force."
"Green-on-blue," or insider, attacks -- in which Afghans wearing military or police uniforms have turned their guns on their U.S. or NATO mentors -- have captured the attention of the mainstream media. But only three such events have occurred in two years of the ALP program.
Intelligence reports indicate that Taliban commanders are offering "bounties" for targeting ALP officers. On Oct. 2, while we were embedded with a U.S. Navy SEAL team, two ALP officers were wounded by an improvised explosive device -- one of them seriously enough to be evacuated.
After the helicopter took off, a SEAL veteran of six tours said: "That could have been me. But he wanted to walk point to protect me. He's a brave man. Hope he comes back soon."
Realizing the hope that a brave ALP officer will return to the fight may well depend on American credibility. If he fears we won't keep our commitments, he won't fight. The precipitous withdrawal from Iraq, exaggerated claims about a "death blow" inflicted on al-Qaida and misrepresentations on what really happened at our consulate in Libya all have been mentioned by those here who put their lives on the line. Those who do not trust us will be afraid -- very afraid.
Oliver North is the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel, the founder and honorary chairman of Freedom Alliance, and the author of "Heroes Proved." Join Oliver North in Israel by going to http://www.olivernorthisrael.com. To find out more about Oliver North and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.