Afghanistan NATO's Top Mission, Commander Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2005 Afghanistan is NATO's No. 1 mission, the alliance's supreme allied commander for operations said during a Pentagon interview today.
NATO currently provides security in the northern and western parts of Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Soon, the alliance will take over the security mission in the southern provinces, and will assume control of the whole country some time in the future, U.S. Marine Gen. James Jones said.
The North Atlantic Council is debating Phase 3, control of southern Afghanistan, of the plan for the alliance to assume the security mission. Jones said he believes the plan will be approved in mid-November. More details -- how large the NATO contingent will be, a timeline for the operations and so on -- will be available then, he said.
When the plan is complete, Germany will command in the northern provinces, Italy those in the west and around Kabul, the United Kingdom in the south, and the United States in the east. France and Turkey will also share the security mission in the north..
Once the NATO mission has expanded throughout the country, those forces will probably come under the command of an American general, who will also be commander for non-NATO nations in the country, Jones said. Currently, 12,000 members of NATO's security force are in the country. Just over 21,000 soldiers are in the coalition force in the region, including about 18,000 U.S. servicemembers.
The general said he led NATO ambassadors to Afghanistan two weeks ago. "They saw what it was like. It is not simply a question of going in and running a bunch of (provincial reconstruction teams); there's much more to it that that," he said. "I think they came away with a positive view and an encouraging view for the task that lies ahead."
NATO troops moving in to Afghanistan will have one set of rules of engagement for the entire country, he said. He cannot guarantee that national "caveats" will not be in place. Each country in NATO is a sovereign nation and can place limits on what their forces can do and where they can do them. A nation may say, for example, that its forces cannot be used in offensive operations or cannot be used in the southern part of the country.
Such caveats make commanders' lives more complex. "As much as I would like the number (of caveats) to be zero, it will never be zero," Jones said. "What we do is work with each nation so no matter what national caveat they bring to the mission, they don't inhibit our ability to do the mission itself."
Jones said he is absolutely certain that the alliance can put together a plan so "there will be enough capacity so nations can do a little of everything that is required and a lot of most of what is required."
Southern and eastern Afghanistan are the most dangerous regions, but no area is completely secure. "The violence in Afghanistan is not the province of one particular group," Jones said. "We tend to think that every time an (improvised explosive device) goes off or there has been a kidnapping or some act of violence that a reconstituted al Qaeda is back or it's the Taliban. Wrong answer."
He said that al Qaeda is marginalized in the country and the Taliban is not far behind. But there are other groups who commit violence. Much of the world's opium comes from Afghanistan. More than 50 percent of the nation's gross domestic product comes directly or indirectly from the drug trade, Jones said. The cartels are responsible for a certain amount of violence.
But so are warlords in the provinces who, while losing power to the national government, are still forces. The general said that tribal animosities play a part in violence in the nation, also.
"The good news is these groups are not cohesive," he said.
So no matter where NATO forces go in the nation, there will be complications. But, Jones said, alliance officials are confident the forces will be able to handle them.