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U.S. Resolve in Afghanistan Undiminished After Authority Transfer

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2006 – Yesterday’s transfer of authority for the final section of Afghanistan to NATO control does not diminish the U.S. commitment to the country one iota, a Defense Department official said here.

“We don’t see that as a handing over the job to NATO,” said Mark Kimmitt, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near East and South Asian affairs. “In fact,” he noted, “the United States will remain on the ground and the majority contributor to forces on the ground through NATO and through our own independent capabilities.”

More than 12,000 U.S. servicemembers will come under the NATO–led International Security Assistance Force. That will bring ISAF’s strength to about 31,000 military members from 36 nations.

Kimmitt spoke to European journalists who cover NATO during a Pentagon roundtable yesterday. He said the United States sees the NATO presence as a way to further internationalize the situation inside Afghanistan. The move will bring more resources and more countries into Afghanistan, he said.

The International Security Assistance Force began operations in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul in 2002. NATO took command of the force on Aug. 11, 2003. It expanded to the north, based around Mazar-e-Sharif, in 2004, and to the west, around Herat, in 2005. The alliance took charge in the south, around Kandahar, earlier this year. British Army Gen. David Richards commands the force. U.S. Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill will take command early next year.

Kimmitt said some people are saying the NATO-led effort in Afghanistan is a way for the United States to turn the problem over to Europe. “That’s simply not the case, and our numbers on the ground will demonstrate this on a daily basis,” he said.

Taliban attacks have increased in Afghanistan, Kimmitt said, and he gave four reasons why this is happening.

First, Kimmitt explained, NATO troops are moving into areas that had few coalition troops in the past. “In Helmond province (in the south), the United States had couple of hundred troops at the most,” he said. “The British have brought more than 3,000 there.” Those troops are getting into areas where Taliban fighters had been hiding, and the Taliban are attacking, Kimmitt said.

A second reason for the increase is the season, he said. The Afghans historically fight in the summer rather than in the frigid winter.

The third reason has to deal with Taliban leaders failing to comprehend the role of debate in a democratic society. In Europe, there was a huge debate over whether NATO should move into the southern part of Afghanistan. Taliban leaders saw that and “interpreted (the debate) as weakness,” Kimmitt said. “They said, ‘Well, if they are arguing about whether they are going to come in or not, then they must not be willing to stay. If we attack them, we will break their political will and military capabilities.’”

But NATO troops have fought hard and suffered casualties, Kimmitt said. “If I were a Taliban commander, I would be thinking I made a tremendous mistake on this,” he said.

Finally, Kimmitt said, small groups of Taliban have formed or reconstituted in remote portions of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Kimmitt said the Taliban has no vision or goal beyond intimidation. Taliban leaders, he said, strive for dictatorial control, suppression of women and their rights and suppression of individual liberties. “The people of Afghanistan do not want the Taliban,” Kimmitt said.

NATO taking the ISAF mission across the country is not the end of the process, he said. NATO may decide in the future to absorb more of the overall mission. For example, Americans operating as part of Operation Enduring Freedom will continue to train and equip the Afghan security forces. NATO may decide to contribute to this, he said.

“We don’t have the monopoly on training soldiers,” Kimmitt said. “We encourage the multinational contributions into it and can envision sometime down the road that NATO may want to take that aspect of the mission as well.”

That’s not being contemplated at the moment, Kimmitt said. “But I would say that a year ago, NATO was not contemplated to be in command of this operation,” he added.

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