By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2006 – NATO forces in southern Afghanistan are not in dire need of reinforcements, but the international community needs to fulfill its commitment of military forces to ensure the ground commander has enough flexibility to quell the rise in violence in the region, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe said today. In a news conference via telephone from Belgium, U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones said he is asking the 26-nation NATO alliance to fully implement the military plan that was agreed upon a year and a half ago, which is now manned at about 85 percent.
"The rounding out of this plan ... and the capabilities that we're currently lacking will give the commander a cushion -- would give him some insurance that he has more than enough force to do the job," Jones said. "It's not a reinforcement in the desperate sense, but it is prudent military leadership advice that adds a certain measure of guarantee and cushion to the forces that are already performing very well."
Included in the additional 15 percent are an attack helicopter squadron, some C-130 cargo planes, and a tactical theater reserve battalion, all of which are lacking in the NATO forces now, Jones said. He estimated the force would be about 2,000 people, but he emphasized that the number of people was not as important as the capabilities they would be bringing.
"I do believe that they'll be successful without it, but I do believe that if we can do it quicker, if we can minimize casualties, and since the commanders have asked for the remainder of that force, I think we should do everything we can to support the commander on the ground," he said.
Jones made these comments on the heels of a three-day trip to Afghanistan with the NATO secretary-general and members of the North Atlantic Council. The tenacity of the resistance in the south came as a surprise to him, he said, but it is by no means unmanageable.
Southern Afghanistan is an important area because it has traditionally been a Taliban stronghold and is the center of the narcotics business in Afghanistan, Jones said. It is also a region that has not seen a lot of permanent coalition troops or outreach from Afghanistan's government, he said. The region also is plagued by corruption in government, the police force and business, he noted.
"You name it, if it's a problem in Afghanistan, it is in the southern region," he said.
Jones is traveling to Warsaw, Poland, tomorrow for a meeting with chiefs of defense from all 26 allied nations, he said. At that meeting, the leaders will discuss which countries have contributed forces so far and which have the capabilities to provide additional forces.
While southern Afghanistan clearly has a need for a military presence right now, the overall solution in Afghanistan will not be a military one, Jones said. Military success in the country will set the conditions for reconstruction and development that is vital to the future, he said.
"Ultimate success in Afghanistan is going to be dependent on the cohesion and the consistent support of the international aid structure," Jones said. "It is extremely important that Afghanistan focus on its judicial reform system, on a capable police force."
It is also vital that Afghanistan be empowered, enabled and supported in combating narcotics, which affects virtually every aspect of people's lives there, Jones said. The money from narcotics also goes to support terrorism, he said.
The mission in Afghanistan is NATO's most important and ambitious mission since the end of the Cold War, Jones said. However, it will take a concerted international effort towards reconstruction and reform in Afghanistan to secure the future, he said.
"It is a problem of showing the people of Afghanistan and enabling the government to expand its reach and bring hope in new standards.”