NATO Expected to Widen Role in Afghanistan
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 28, 2004 NATO nations agreed today at the NATO Istanbul Summit here to expand the alliance's responsibility in Afghanistan to include more provincial reconstruction teams north and west of the capital city of Kabul, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters here June 27.
The secretary, who held bilateral talks with several NATO ministers here before the summit's official opening day, said he's encouraged by their interest in expanding NATO's responsibility beyond the International Security Assistance Force area in and around Kabul.
Rumsfeld acknowledged that the decision to head up or even participate in provincial reconstruction teams, which help extend the Afghan civil government's authority and boost development and reconstruction, is historic for NATO.
"NATO has taken command for the first time in the history of the alliance of an activity in this case, the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan for the first time outside the NATO treaty area and outside of Europe," he told reporters.
The secretary said Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, supreme allied commander, Europe, already has done much of the groundwork needed to gather the assets needed to shore up the new teams "tin-cupping" NATO countries for C-130s and other aircraft, intelligence assets and other requirements.
NATO now has one provincial reconstruction team under its command, in Kunduz. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, a big supporter of the PRT concept, told the Centre of European Reform earlier this month that the alliance will now take five teams under its command.
These teams, he said, will help build security while supporting the national elections later this year, building on the alliance's successes in Afghanistan.
They will also free up U.S. forces to focus on other, more combat-focused missions, including the hunt for terrorist elements, a defense spokesman said.
"Today, thanks in large part to the NATO-led peacekeeping forces, Kabul is safer than it has been for decades," Scheffer said earlier this month. "Heavy weapons are being put under lock and key. And the local police and army are being trained at record speed."
Scheffer said NATO must continue its commitment to helping Afghanistan. "As an international community, we simply cannot let Afghanistan fail," he said. "We cannot, and we will not, turn our backs on that country."
The secretary-general said NATO will make good on its commitments in Afghanistan. "And in doing so, we will not only help that long-suffering country to take a major step toward a better future," he said. "We will also demonstrate NATO's effectiveness at shaping stability, through its operations, where required."