By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2006 – Military might will not win the battle for Afghanistan, NATO's top military officer said here today. Building a government that guards the liberties of its citizens, provides economic opportunities and treats all fairly before the law will do more than simple military pressure, U.S. Marine General James L. Jones said during a Pentagon interview.
NATO has assumed the security mission in southern Afghanistan. The alliance now has responsibility for about 80 percent of the nation and is scheduled to assume command for the rest of the country by the end of this year. Jones said this is a strategic moment for Afghanistan and for the North Atlantic alliance. "It's a test of wills," he said. "I believe NATO will be successful."
Jones said the people of Afghanistan will only benefit, if the world community shows Afghans the benefits of security and freedom under a national government. Afghanistan's problem is not a military problem, Jones said. "The future of Afghanistan is tied to the international aid and development problem," he said. "If I were to prioritize what needs to be done in Afghanistan, I would put the current military operations somewhat lower than the urgency needed for police reform, of (forming) a judicial system that works, of eliminating corruption at the senior levels in the districts and provinces, and of effectively attacking the narcotics problem."
NATO and the coalition must provide tangible results quickly. Such needed results include: new hospitals, bridges, roads, water systems, electricity and schools, Jones said. "That's the battle of Afghanistan," he said. "That is the battle for the future." Jones said he learned two rules of counterinsurgency from former Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Al Gray: "Don't do anything that's not good for the people; don't make any more enemies than you've already got," he said. "That's pretty simple stuff."
NATO assumed control of southern Afghanistan July 31. The alliance's forces have suffered casualties at the hands of the Taliban, narcoterrorists, criminal elements and tribal warlords. Eleven NATO soldiers have lost their lives, and another 50 have been wounded in combat. NATO forces also have suffered two non-battle deaths and 35 non-battle injuries.
Jones called NATO's new area of responsibility "the wild south" and said security concerns there were fairly predictable. Coalition forces could not be everywhere at once, and the Taliban and narcoterrorists have used the mountains of Helmand and Oruzgan provinces as safe havens. The area has seen few coalition soldiers until now. Now, 6,000 NATO soldiers from five different countries are arriving in the south.
Jones said he expects the region to calm in the next few months. "We have the troop strength to do that," he said. "It's a test of wills right now, but I have no doubt we will prevail in relatively short order." NATO's assumption of territory in the east will put U.S. troops there under NATO command. Forces in Afghanistan will have unity of command, purpose and mission, Jones said. "Bringing everything under one operational commander certainly will be more effective than the system we have," he said.
Ultimately, NATO will have 40,000 soldiers, including Americans, in the country from 37 different countries -- 26 NATO members and 11 other coalition countries. The alliance has done well so far in commanding the International Security Assistance Force, around Kabul. NATO assumed command of the northern area around Mazar-e Sharif in July 2004. The alliance assumed responsibility for the west, around the city of Herat, in mid-2005. The alliance now has moved into the south, based around Kandahar. "I think the alliance deserves a lot of credit," Jones said. "It's a very important and ambitious mission (in Afghanistan), and it is important that it not fail. And we will not fail."