Progress made in Afghanistan, retired general says

LADY'S ISLAND -- Though under-staffed, multinational forces are making progress in Afghanistan, the former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan told the Beaufort Rotary Club on Wednesday.

No stranger to the Lowcountry, retired four-star Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill spoke at St. Peter's Catholic Church on Lady's Island about several topics related to his experience as head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. He even helped explain a gift the club had received from a Marine overseas to thank them for a care package.

"This is a pakol," he said, holding up a hand-embroidered wool cap. "These were worn by the mujahedeen when they fought the Soviets in the '80s. Those guys are good fighters and some pretty hard dudes."

McNeill has twice spoken to the Beaufort Rotary Club, of which his father-in-law, retired Army Gen. Fly Flanagan of Dataw Island, is a member.

The bulk of McNeill's speech focused on his tenure as head of NATO forces in Afghanistan. McNeill assumed command of the multinational effort in February 2007 and relinquished command to Gen. David D. McKiernan in June.

McNeill instructed the audience of more than 100 people to be discerning when reading news reports about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, corruption in the Afghan government and tensions between NATO's member nations.

"It's not the mess that the newspapers say that it is," he said. "I am not here to tell you that we have the perfect situation in Afghanistan; it's not a perfect situation. But I am here to tell you that we've made a lot more progress than what makes the first four pages of the newspaper or the 6:30 news."

McNeill offered the increasing enrollment in Afghan schools, the decreasing rate of infant mortality, and the growing number of NATO troops in the country as evidence of that progress.