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Washington native promoted to brigadier general, says Afghan insurgency dying

U.S. Army
Then-Col. James R. Blackburn Jr. addresses soldiers in Afghanistan in this 2011 file photo. The Army promoted Blackburn, a Washington native, to brigadier general this week.

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Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Washington native who recently became a one-star Army general said on Friday that the Taliban insurgency is failing in Afghanistan.

“Insurgencies live and die on perceptions, and this insurgency is dying, absolutely dying,” Brig. Gen. James R. Blackburn Jr., 49, told the Tribune-Review in a phone interview from Kabul, the nation's capital.

The Army promoted Blackburn to brigadier general on Wednesday. Blackburn, on the fifth combat tour of his 27-year career, is serving as deputy commander with the Army's 3rd Corps and International Security Assistance Force Joint Command.

Blackburn said he is overseeing troops that largely play a supporting role to Afghan security forces, which now handle 85 percent of combat operations on their own. U.S.-led coalition forces provide Afghans with access to intelligence, improved weaponry and medical support.

It's far different from 2½ years ago, when Blackburn was helping train Afghan forces that were just beginning to stand on their own in Zabul Province. The goal is for Afghan forces to be self-sufficient by a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. and NATO combat troops in late 2014.

“That doesn't mean they will be ready to go cold turkey by then,” Blackburn said.

The brigadier general said he is humbled by his promotion, crediting others with his development.

“That is a tremendous personal honor and Washington County is proud of him,” said Barry A. Grimm, director of the county's Department of Veterans Affairs.

A graduate of Washington High School, Blackburn earned a political science degree from the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a distinguished military graduate. Blackburn is married with three children, the youngest of whom is a high school quarterback in Virginia. The general watched his son's season-opener this year online.

Blackburn said he is following from overseas the Pirates' remarkable turnaround, and he eagerly awaits the Steelers' season-opener on Sunday.

“I'm a 'Burgher,” Blackburn said.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or

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