Global Policy Forum

NATO Now the Primary Security Force in Afghanistan


By Roland Flamini

World Politics Watch
October 9, 2006


With its move into eastern Afghanistan last week, NATO assumed full responsibility for security throughout the entire country, but the commander of the Atlantic alliance said in Washington Wednesday that victory "will not be resolved by military means."

U.S. Marine General James L. Jones said NATO's troop strength of 35,000 from 26 member countries is "adequate for the mission," but he said the real challenge is to break the logjam in the faltering reconstruction effort and halt the growth of the narco trade. Troops from some NATO countries were first deployed in Kabul in 2001 as ISAF, the International Security and Assistance Force. In 2003, the alliance extended its control over the north and west of the country, and last July moved into the south, a hotbed of Taliban resurgence.

This week NATO completed its expansion throughout the country by deploying its forces in the east, the only area still controlled by the U.S.-led coalition. The takeover reduces the Pentagon's role in Afghanistan: 12,000 U.S. troops have been moved under NATO command, leaving 8,000 Americans as a separate counterterrorist operation that also helps with reconstruction and training the Afghan army and police. At the same time, the Afghanistan mission confronts the European-based military alliance with its toughest challenge yet.

In addition to the U.S. force, the multi-national force includes 5,200 British soldiers, 2,750 Germans -- the third largest contingent -- right down to ten soldiers from Poland and 30 from Albania. Clashes with Taliban fighters, especially in the south, have caused British and Canadian casualties, drawing criticism in both countries; but NATO says Taliban casualties are in the thousands. There is no question that attacks by a strengthened Taliban are on the rise, and violence has increased in Afghanistan. So far this year, there have 2,800 deaths in car bombings and other incidents, which is 1,500 more victims than in 2005.

Addressing foreign policy specialists at an event organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank, General Jones said the key to halting the violence is a more effective effort to bring social order to Afghanistan. He said the Western nations entrusted with various aspects of Afghanistan's recovery need to do a better job.

The real battle is "for the hearts and minds," said Jones, a top soldier known for his outspoken views. "Anything we do militarily is perishable if it is not backed by the international reconstruction effort. Where we were able to put in good governance, good police, the Taliban drift off to other areas," he observed. "Fundamentally, I think there is a requirement to do more, to bring more focus, more clarity, more purpose, and more results in a short period of time. Fundamentally, this is the exit strategy for Afghanistan."

NATO's Supreme Allied Commander called the Afghan narcotics industry "the Achilles heel of Afghanistan." Drugs amount to some 50 percent of the country's gross national product. Heroin manufactured from the vast poppy crop provides money for the Taliban insurrection, "fuels corruption, and fuels the criminal element," Jones went on.

According to recent U.N. statistics, 2.9 million Afghans are involved in the narcotics trade, which is estimated to be worth $3 billion. This year the Afghan production of raw material for heroin hit a record 6,100 tons, which is almost 50 percent more than in 2005. Jones said the amount paid to the poppy-growing farmers is probably quite small, and they could be persuaded to switch to growing other crops. The main problem is protecting the growers from intimidation because "this is a very violent cartel."

Aside from intimidation by the narcotics cartel's own armed bands, there is the problem of corruption among the Afghan police and the judiciary. Judicial reform is crucial to reduce corruption, he said, and the cause is partly financial. "There are 1,000 public prosecutors in Afghanistan and they earn $60 a month: You can't live in Kabul on $60 a month," Jones said. An "overall international campaign strategy" is needed to fight the narcotics trade in Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led coalition launched its attack on Afghanistan five years ago, in immediate response to the Nov 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The offensive was successful in ousting the Taliban regime, but five years later, these Muslim fundamentalists, drifting back across the border from Pakistan, are a force to be reckoned with, challenging the Afghan authorities, and Western forces.

The international community has lavished money for reconstruction, but progress has been slow, and Jones said the international community needs "to put more focus" into the reconstruction effort.

Jones said NATO's main function in Afghanistan is to harmonize military operations and protect the reconstruction effort. But while its mission does not include hunting for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who is said to be operating from the Afghan mountains bordering Pakistan, NATO forces are not likely to turn their backs on an opportunity to capture him if it presents itself, Jones said.





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