The British general who led efforts to start a reintegration program for Afghan militants said Thursday that nearly 2,000 such fighters have joined the process, a definite success story in a country that has seen 30 years of war.
"About 1,700 former fighters have formally joined," British Major General Phil Jones told reporters at the Pentagon via video conference from Kabul. "On top of this, the High Peace Council has at least another 40 to 45 groups in negotiation across the country, and maybe as much as another 2,000 fighters."
The Afghan Peace and Reintegration Program is a NATO-led initiative that helps former fighters find a peaceful way to leave insurgent groups and re-enter society. The program has only been in place for about 10 months. Those that join do so willingly and are able to keep their personal weapons as long as they renounce violence and sever all ties with terrorist groups.
"Thus far the people who have come, the 1,700 odd who have come over recent months, have shown no signs of recidivism yet, there is no sense they are coming in to wait out the fighting season and go back," Jones said.
The High Peace Council oversees the program on a national level. Since September 2010, all 34 Afghan provinces have worked to either establish or begin establishing local peace councils. Around the country reintegration centers are being built. More than 600 reintegrated fighters have been reached in eight local events highlighting the benefits of the program.
Jones also said that the death of Usama bin Laden in Pakistan a few weeks ago has sparked increased interest in the program. "[T]here was no love lost."
"[W]e were talking to some officers from the National Director of Security this morning," Jones told reporters, "and they were quite clear that the expressions of interest of low level groups, mid level groups, to join the program has picked up considerably over the last couple of weeks, and they would say that that really is a result of that event."
While Jones is optimistic about the future of the program - and Afghanistan in general - he warned those listening that it is always a challenge to predict the actions of terrorists. "The dust is still settling on the death of Usama bin Laden... at the moment it's seen as an opportunity for all, but quite how that is going to manifest itself out here is yet to become clear."