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Jones: NATO’s Afghanistan Success Wasn’t Achieved Overnight

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 2006 – NATO’s security and reconstruction achievements in Afghanistan are the result of years of planning and incremental implementation, the organization’s supreme allied commander in Europe said in the Afghan capital Oct. 28.

Afghanistan was not even on NATO’s mission list in 2003, Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who was visiting the country, told reporters at a Kabul news conference.

Yet today, Afghanistan “is NATO’s most ambitious and most important mission,” the general said. NATO’s International Security Assistance Force helps provide stability across Afghanistan by combating Taliban extremists and other criminals and assisting in national reconstruction efforts.

Yet, “it takes time to generate political will and the capabilities of the alliance to engage at these strategic distances,” the four-star general said.

Jones, who also is commander of U.S. European Command, recalled that NATO began its Afghanistan mission in Kabul in 2003. ISAF operations expanded into northern Afghanistan in 2004, and then moved west in 2005.

The ISAF took responsibility for Afghanistan’s southern region on July 31, and earlier this month it assumed responsibility for the eastern portion. Today, about 20,000 NATO forces are in Afghanistan, with 37 countries involved in reconstruction efforts.

“So, we have spent the better part of the last three years building the force, raising political support, getting the international decisions so that we could get to where we are,” Jones explained.

The southern part of Afghanistan is the traditional home of the Taliban. And, there was a shortage of anti-terrorist troops in the south until NATO forces moved into the area, Jones noted.

“Since July of this year, we have … put as many as 9,000 NATO troops into the south,” which disrupted the activities of the Taliban, drug traffickers and other criminals, Jones said.

“We’ve upset any number of things that are acting as cancers” against Afghanistan’s recovery and reconstruction, Jones said.

NATO forces soundly defeated Taliban troops and other criminal elements in recent fighting in southern Afghanistan during Operation Medusa, the general said. There’s been a marked decrease in insurgent activity in southern Afghanistan since Operation Medusa concluded, he said.

Jones said he is happy and proud “that NATO acquitted itself so well” in that “very unusual and very violent, very important engagement.”

He also said he’s encouraged by the vitality and capability of the fledgling Afghan National Army and the police, “who are out there risking their security and their lives every day by trying to do their jobs.”

However, achieving reconstruction in Afghanistan won’t be accomplished through military activity alone, Jones said.

“We must do as much as we can in the international spectrum and the international community to make sure that cohesion and focus is brought to those areas of reconstruction and development that are in most need of our attention,” he said.

For example, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is working with Afghan counterparts to restore the country’s rule of law so drug traffickers can be investigated, arrested and prosecuted, Karen Tandy, the administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said during the news conference.

Tandy said her agency is working to identify the worst drug suppliers operating in Afghanistan. In December, Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a new law that will helps Afghan counternarcotics agents execute search and arrest warrants for drug traffickers.

About 100 Afghan drug traffickers have been successfully prosecuted in Kabul courts, Tandy said. In addition, a Taliban-connected drug kingpin, Baz Mohammad, was extradited from Afghanistan to the United States, where he now awaits sentencing by a U.S. federal court after pleading guilty to heroin trafficking.

Afghanistan lacked rule of law for more than 20 years until U.S. and coalition force liberated the country from Taliban rule in early 2002, Tandy noted. The country’s criminal justice system has made great strides in the past year, she said.

She said DEA is privileged to instill its know-how and expertise into fledgling Afghan counternarcotics operations.

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Gen. James L. Jones, USMC
Karen Tandy

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International Security Assistance Force

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