By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, Oct. 17, 2006 – NATO had a tough summer in Afghanistan, but the troops came through and have proven they are tough and in for the long haul, the NATO International Security Assistance Force commander said today. Talking from Afghanistan with Pentagon reporters, British Army Gen. David Richards said the Taliban tried to exploit NATO's arrival to try to deter the alliance from assuming command of operations in Afghanistan.
"We needed to prove, both to them and to the people of this country - in particular people of the south - that NATO ISAF was up to the job that we had been entrusted with, building on the great work of the U.S.-led coalition," Richards said. "That meant that we had to fight, and fight we have."
He said the alliance had a tactical victory in Operation Medusa in the area southwest of Kandahar. The NATO troops came from Canada, the United States, the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Richards said the operation helped the Afghan National Army and police establish "the psychological ascendancy over the Taliban in a military sense."
He said there is no doubt any more that NATO can fight. Alliance soldiers inflicted "the biggest single defeat on the Taliban that had occurred since 2001," Richards said.
But having established its bona fides, the alliance must build upon its accomplishments, he said. "We have now with the government and with the international community to exploit the window of opportunity," the general said.
The Afghan government, NATO and the international community must deliver reconstruction and improvements in governance that Afghans want. "They need to appreciate that it's not all going to happen tomorrow, but that it is ... on an upward curve with a continuing sense of improvement," Richards said. "That will build confidence that all this effort is worth it and the fighting, when it occurs, is worth it and leads to a better future.
He said failure to deliver would mean a bad year in 2007. "If we can deliver it and we start to persuade moderate opinion - which is still a vast majority in this country, they want us to succeed - that we are up to it, then things could be much better by April next year, and that is our aim jointly, with the government, with the international community and obviously within the band, the grouping, of those that constitute the security forces at work here," he said.
The general said he had spent the morning with the chiefs of the Afghan army and police. The three gave final direction on the first pan-Afghanistan security operation in which the whole country will feel the effect of properly coordinated security operations. "This is one of the great advantages of NATO-ISAF expansion," he said. "For the first time, we have a single commander with a single headquarters with whom the Afghans can now operate and cooperate. And we gave clear direction, I hope, about how we are to take forward our operations together this winter."