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Jones Sees Demise of Afghan Terrorists, Narcotraffickers

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2006 – The end is drawing near for remnant Taliban, al Qaeda and other elements seeking to displace the Afghan government for their own purposes, the American general who oversees U.S. troops in Europe and NATO matters said here yesterday.

"I think this is a turning moment for what's left of the insurgency and also for the criminal element, the narcotics traffickers and all the others, who are working on their own in their own way to destabilize the growth of the (Afghan President Hamid) Karzai government," Marine Gen. James L. Jones told "CNN Late Edition" host Wolf Blitzer.

Jones is supreme allied commander in Europe and commander of U.S. European Command.

American, coalition and Afghan forces defeated the Taliban, which had terrorized the populace and facilitated the operation of al Qaeda training camps in the country. Operation Enduring Freedom was launched Oct. 7, 2001. The U.S. declared in early May 2003 that major combat operations in Afghanistan had ended, but a diminished insurgency has continued since then.

Remaining Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Afghanistan continue to stage hit-and-run operations against Afghan, U.S. and other coalition forces. But, Jones said, these incidents are becoming less significant as government forces grow in size and capability.

Jones predicted an increase in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan this spring, but said the outnumbered and outgunned terrorists are unlikely to make any meaningful gains. "I don't think that means we have a resurgence or an insurgency that's returning" in Afghanistan, the general told Blitzer. Any spike in violence likely would be "disparate" and spread out among the Taliban, al Qaeda and narcotraffickers, Jones said.

Terrorists in Afghanistan also are expected to adopt "copycat" techniques like those used by terrorists in Iraq, such as employing more roadside bombs to attack government, U.S. and other coalition troops, Jones said.

"There clearly are going to be instances of duplication and imitation," Jones said. Terrorists in Afghanistan are "going to try everything that they can, because the tide and the times are moving out," he said.

Jones said Afghanistan's 30,000-member national army is making things hot for the terrorists. "They're a capable army. They're admired by the people," Jones said. "They're out mixing it up and doing things they need to do."

The coalition in Afghanistan plans to inject substantial reinforcements to put more pressure on the insurgency during 2006, Jones said. NATO also is preparing to deploy about 11,000 troops into Afghanistan to assist with security duties, he said. "There are fewer hiding places for those who wish us ill in Afghanistan," Jones said.

Right now, Jones said, he considers Afghanistan's drug traffickers as much as a detriment for the country's well being as the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists. Many of Afghanistan's poppy plants are harvested and processed by labs into opium, from which heroin is made. "We all have to be very, very cognizant of the fact that this may be the most important problem the Karzai government faces in terms of restoring the economy and moving it in a positive direction," Jones said.

Regarding the whereabouts of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Jones said he believes the terrorist will eventually be dealt with. Bin Laden is suspected of hiding somewhere along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. "If he's still alive there's reason to believe that we'll eventually be successful (in finding him), particularly if we get a good working relationship across both sides of border, which would be, in my view, very important," Jones said.

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