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NATO Ministers Discuss Afghan Problems, Challenges

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BUDAPEST, Hungary, Oct. 9, 2008 – NATO has proven it is up to the job in Afghanistan, and the alliance is adjusting to changing situations in the country, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates spoke to reporters following a meeting of representatives from NATO and non-NATO countries that contribute troops to the effort in Afghanistan during the alliance’s defense ministerial conference here.

While measurements of violence are up since NATO took over responsibility for the International Security Assistance Force in 2006, that number has to be taken in historical context, the secretary said. The United States has added 11,000 troops to the force since 2006. The NATO allies have added 10,000 in a year, he noted.

“The reality is that a lot of allies have really made significant increases in their contributions,” the secretary said. In the meeting today, other nations indicated that they intend to add additional forces, he said.

Another factor driving up violence in Afghanistan is changes in Pakistan, Gates said. Agreements the Pakistani government made with tribes along the border decreased the pressure on extremist groups, and this created sanctuaries for the Taliban, the Hakkani terror network and al-Qaida to train and refit and send people into Afghanistan. “The border area continues to be a significant challenge,” he said. “That’s a problem that we didn’t have in 2006 and a good part of 2007.”

The increased forces mean the alliance has been more aggressive in going into parts of Afghanistan not policed in the past, Gates explained. “That’s particularly what the Marines have run into in the south, where there hasn’t been an allied troops presence in a long time,” he said.

The International Security Assistance Force has made the adjustments needed, and the allies have accepted their responsibilities, Gates said.

“I don’t have any criticisms at this point of the alliance, because I think every country has fulfilled the commitments they have made,” he said. “The challenge is we still have additional requirements by the commanders that we are having a hard time filling.”

Ambassador Kai Eide of Norway, a special United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, also briefed the defense ministers on his operations, Gates told reporters. Eide coordinates civilian activities in terms of economic development and organizing elections and to help develop stronger government institutions.

“I think that one of the concerns that we’ve had is that he does not have all the resources he needs to do the job,” Gates said. Eide looks at Afghanistan from a national perspective and not simply as one of 42 different nations or as one of hundreds of nongovernmental organizations.

Reconciliation has to part of the peace equation in Afghanistan, Gates said, and this might include some Taliban.

“As you look to the long term, [reconciliation] is the political end in terms of how you turn this from a major military operation into a government that has a manageable set of security challenges,” he said. Ultimately, reconciliation has to be part of a political outcome, he said. Recent pessimistic remarks in the media also must be put in context, Gates said.

“I have the impression that some of what people have been saying is there cannot be a military victory in Afghanistan, but it’s not because we think we’ll be defeated,” he said. “It’s because … it’s a political outcome that will resolve this -- a political outcome combined with a strengthening of the Afghan National Army and the National Police, so they can be responsible for their own security.”

The secretary pointed to the U.S. experience in Iraq’s Anbar province as a parallel.

“We promoted a reconciliation with people we were fairly confident had been shooting at us and killing our soldiers,” he said. “I don’t know how it would evolve in Afghanistan, but it seems to me that it has to be from a position of strength, and there have to be conditions.

“We have to be sure we are not talking about any al-Qaida,” the secretary continued. “We have to make sure that they are prepared to work with and subject themselves to the sovereign authority of the Afghan government. This isn’t an open-ended reconciliation.”

Reconciliation, when it happens, has to be on the Afghan government’s terms, not on the terms of those who have been trying to overthrow the government, Gates said.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels With Gates, Southeastern Europe
NATO
NATO International Security Assistance Force



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