Progress Must Continue in Afghanistan, Commander Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 2, 2007 Afghanistan is making progress, but big challenges remain, the man with ultimate responsibility for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said today.
Meeting with reporters at the Pentagon today, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, said that in addition to dealing with Taliban fighters and other insurgents in the country, Afghanistan is plagued by problems caused by opium cultivation and the drug trade.
ISAF has about 35,000 troops from 35 different nations in Afghanistan. The United States has 15,000 troops serving there under the ISAF banner and a further 11,000 separate from the command.
Craddock recently returned from a visit to Afghanistan. He said he believes the Taliban and other insurgent groups will continue to test ISAF in the spring and summer, but that NATO will be up to the challenge.
Reconstruction and construction are keys to winning in Afghanistan, he said. One reason Afghan farmers turn to growing opium poppy is because there is no alternative. In many areas of the country, there are no decent roads. In other areas, the irrigation system has been destroyed. In many places, drug lords have replaced warlords, and insurgents – including the Taliban – are receiving much of their money from the drug trade.
World Bank and United Nations reports say that Afghanistan is in danger of becoming a “narco-state.” U.S. estimates are that between 30 percent and 50 percent of the gross domestic product on the nation comes from drugs.
Such a problem does not have an easy answer, Craddock said. Security and stability are tied to reconstruction and economic growth, and all aspects must work together for progress.
NATO and the United States must continue efforts to train the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police, he said. The Afghan people have confidence in their nation’s security forces, and the forces’ competence and numbers grow each day. And they have an effect on insurgents. “When there’s a presence of either the Afghan security forces or ISAF, the Taliban or insurgent forces don’t stay around,” he said.
The problem is there are not enough forces right now to spread this control into all regions of the country.
“We have to have the numbers, which is why we have to train the Afghan security forces and have all the NATO forces that countries have pledged,” he said. Conditions are getting better, with NATO nations pledging more forces for the effort. The United States, United Kingdom, Norway and Poland are among the nations that will contribute more forces to the effort. Overall, 7,000 more troops will be part of the effort.
This will help NATO do more stability operations, Craddock said. In the past, NATO forces had to move from place to place to “put out security fires.” Now the troops will be able to dwell in an area and provide that long-term stability that is needed for economic growth.
This stability leads to the counter-narcotics mission. NATO does not have responsibility for the counter-drug mission, Craddock said. Afghan security forces, under guidance and training from the United Kingdom, have that mission.
But NATO does have some authorities to support Afghan forces in the counter-narcotics fight. “My judgment is … we optimize those right to the limit,” Craddock said. NATO forces are authorized to provide information and intelligence to the Afghan forces. They also can provide some security and logistical support to the Afghan efforts.
Craddock said there has to be a concerted effort across the board against narcotics. Afghanistan is going to have to look at stopping production, taking down processors, interdicting distribution lines and in Europe – where most of the heroin is abused – officials are going to have to address consumption, he said.
Craddock said he does not think eradication programs – such as ones used in Colombia now to destroy the coca crop – are the answer in Afghanistan, because there is nothing to replace that opium poppy crop. “It’s not like there are other jobs available,” he said. “We need to provide livelihoods for the people.”
Nations have pledged enormous resources to help Afghanistan, he said, but those must be integrated and synchronized to be effective. With stability, he explained, it is possible for roads, bridges, wells, irrigation projects and so on to get into place. Jobs and other opportunities will follow. “If there is an opportunity for licit, legal employment, the Afghans will choose that over the insurgents,” he said.
But even with this working perfectly, there is a showstopper to the east. “NATO cannot prevail without greater control of the border areas with Pakistan and greater cooperation and coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Craddock said.
Afghanistan and Pakistan must work together to know who is coming across the borders and to stop undesirables from coming in. In January, a force of about 250 Taliban fighters came across the border from Pakistan. They were detected and destroyed by U.S. and Afghan forces.
“There are 2 million Afghan refugees living in Pakistan, and they are a great source of Taliban fighters because they don’t have any choice,” he said. The United Nations and refugee agencies will have to be brought in to work a solution to this problem, he added.
The military-to-military contacts among Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO, which work well, can extend to the political side, and there is some hope that will happen, he said.