By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2006 – Several NATO countries have agreed to send additional forces to Afghanistan to fill the troop requirement agreed upon a year and a half ago, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe said today. A conference in Warsaw, Poland, earlier this month with the chiefs of defense from all 26 allied nations yielded no offers of additional support for NATO forces in Afghanistan, but extended negotiations after the conference resulted in definite offers from four countries, U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones said at a Pentagon news conference.
These offers, along with several other tentative offers, will bring the NATO troop level in Afghanistan close to 100 percent of what was agreed upon in the alliance's military plan for Afghanistan, he said. The force is now manned at about 85 percent.
"What we were looking for was the forces that would give depth and robustness to (the commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force) and give him more maneuverability throughout the country," Jones said.
Romania is deploying a battalion, which will arrive in Afghanistan in October and be fully operational by the middle of October, Jones said. This force will constitute the operational reserve for NATO, he said. In addition, Poland has announced the deployment of a maneuver battalion and special operations forces beginning in January. Poland has agreed that this battalion can be used as the tactical theater reserve, which Jones has said is necessary to give the NATO commander flexibility in operations.
The United Kingdom and Canada are augmenting their forces in Afghanistan, and NATO is incorporating more Afghan battalions into operations, Jones said. As Afghan army units continue to become operational, they can be useful in freeing up NATO forces for other operations and stay behind to maintain security and enable reconstruction to proceed, he said.
NATO's call for additional forces was not made in desperation, and the recent operations in southern Afghanistan were never in doubt, Jones stressed. The additional forces are part of an established agreement between the allied countries and will give the NATO commander more options and flexibility, he said.
Operation Medusa in southern Afghanistan concluded last weekend, when Taliban forces retreated from the area, Jones said. The offensive operation was generated by the Taliban, who decided to engage NATO in its first operational ground test in the area around Kandahar, he said.
The Kandahar region historically has been the center of narcotics operations in Afghanistan and a haven for the Taliban, because it hasn't had a strong government or military presence, Jones said. The arrival of NATO troops in the area in July was a shock to the Taliban and caused them to use more conventional tactics in challenging the troops, he said.
"They paid a very heavy price for it," Jones said. "Our intent throughout was to signal to the insurgents, the government of Afghanistan and the people of the region, as well as to the international community, that NATO forces would not back down from exercising robust and overwhelming combat power when necessary."
After the completion of offensive operations in southern Afghanistan, NATO forces immediately began reconstruction and relief efforts, Jones said. The U.S. already has made available half a million dollars for these efforts, and NATO is engaged with the international community to enable the return of displaced citizens and set the conditions for long-term reconstruction and development activities, he said.
"It's important that we understand that the way ahead in Afghanistan is to link any successful operational mission with visible, tangible demonstration of aid and relief available to the local population," he said.
Success in Afghanistan will not be won by the military alone, Jones said. The international community must mobilize to develop the government, police and justice systems, and to combat the narcotics problem to bring lasting change to the country, he said.
"If military action is not followed up by visible, tangible, sizable and correctly focused reconstruction and development efforts, then we will be in Afghanistan for a much longer period of time than we need to be," he said.