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U.S. Senator Cites Unmistakable Signs of Progress in Afghanistan
March 20, 2013

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (shown in a 2012 file photo) discussed progress being made in Afghanistan with the Council on Foreign Relations.

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
IIP Staff Writer
March 19, 2013

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin says it is important for the United States and its allies to be realistic about the challenges in Afghanistan, but it’s also important to recognize the advances that have been made.

Levin told a Washington meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations March 18 that it is imperative for the United States to reinforce actions that promote success.

“The first is to continue working hard to establish a durable partnership that will provide Afghanistan’s security forces the assistance they need,” Levin said.

“The security picture has changed very much for the better. There are unmistakable signs of progress on the single most important security task we face in Afghanistan: building Afghan security forces capable of securing their own nation,” Levin said.

Afghan security forces will continue to require support in logistics, transportation, intelligence and other areas, but they have shown they are capable of “carrying the fight to the Taliban, and are doing so effectively,” he said.

The civil society the Afghan security forces are defending is better off today than when operations began in late 2001, Levin said, citing these measures of progress:

• Under the Taliban regime, about 800,000 Afghan children attended school, and girls were largely denied an education. Now more than 8 million students attend Afghan schools, and more than 40 percent of them are girls.

• In 2001, Afghanistan had 20,000 teachers, all male; today there are 200,000 teachers, including 60,000 women.

• The number of schools has grown from 3,400 in 2001 to more than 16,000 today.

• Afghanistan’s per capita gross domestic product has grown fourfold since 2001.

• Afghan life expectancy has risen by 20 years since 2001.

• More than 18 million Afghans have telephone access, compared to about 1 million in 2002.

Levin said more effort should focus on bolstering achievements in building Afghanistan’s human capital.

“More than two-thirds of Afghans are under 25 years of age, and the country’s future depends on opportunities for them,” he told the council.

“One promising venue for those efforts is the National Solidarity Program, which has already financed over 68,000 small-scale, locally sustainable projects that Afghan villages select, oversee and protect from Taliban interference,” he said.

He noted that just talking about these goals is another indication of how far Afghanistan has come despite the challenges.

Levin cited one other example of the progress being made by the Afghans: In February, members of the Afghan National Youth Orchestra performed a selection of traditional Afghan music, once forbidden by the Taliban, for members of the U.S. Senate and staff gathered in the U.S. Capitol building.

After the performance, the senators took the orchestra on a tour of the Capitol. The orchestra was in the United States for a short tour that concluded at Carnegie Hall in New York.

“Such an evening would have been unimaginable before our partnership with the Afghan people,” Levin said. “Not only were there no musical academies under the Taliban, there was no music.”