JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD -- During his tour in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti encountered some of his toughest challenges earlier this year when the accidental burning of copies of the Quran touched off riots and a soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord killed 16 civilians in Kandahar province.
Scaparrotti, a Lewis-McChord commander, just finished a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan as the second-in-command of the NATO war effort.
Scaparrotti said he was heartened by how the Afghan army partners responded to the events.
"As is often the case, when you go through tough times with a partner, you are actually stronger at the other end," Scaparrotti said in an interview Tuesday.
"It was the Afghan senior leadership all the way to the battlefield level commanders that stepped forward to explain to their people what had happened, and to literally protect our forces ... when there were violent demonstrations."
Scaparrotti came to Lewis-McChord in October 2010. He is scheduled to end his time at the base next week and take up a new assignment at the Pentagon.
While in Afghanistan, Scaparrotti led a contingent of some 700 I Corps soldiers from Lewis McChord, who were involved in the day-to-day operations of the war.
Scaparrotti said one of his priorities was to accelerate development of the Afghan forces and "press them into the lead."
He believes there has been substantial progress.
The Afghan army has increased retention rates and will reach a target size of 352,000 soldiers this fall. The Afghans now lead about half the day-to-day missions.
Among major challenges, Scaparrotti cited continuing corruption in the Afghan government.
"They are making progress but they have to continue to work on that, because it is probably the people's central complaint about their government," he said.
Scaparrotti and the I Corps soldiers left Afghanistan as the summer fighting season was well under way.
In the months ahead, Scaparrotti and I Corps Command Sgt. Major John Troxell expect some of the toughest fighting will be in the western part of Kandahar province, an area where many of the U.S. forces on patrol are from Lewis-McChord.
"They (the insurgents) understand that is the traditional Taliban home," Troxell said. "They fear if they lose that area, the whole Taliban effort will fail, so they are sending a lot more fighters into those areas."