By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
June 14, 2007 – Immense progress has been made in providing international assistance to the people and government of Afghanistan, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said today in his opening statement during the two-day session of the North Atlantic Council here. "As we meet today, we must first of all pay tribute to the men and women who take part in the NATO-led operations and missions from the Balkans to Afghanistan," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "We mourn those whose lives have been lost and offer out condolences to their loved ones."
The secretary general said he is proud of the achievement of NATO forces and their commitment to providing political leadership and the resources they need to undertake their missions.
"We are grateful to our partner countries who help us shoulder these responsibilities," he said. "The international community needs to continue to assist the Afghan government not only in military security but also in reconstruction, development, governance, police training and the fight against drugs."
De Hoop Scheffer said NATO allies have been stepping up their commitment by increasing the number of troops and provincial reconstruction teams sent into Afghanistan.
During the spring campaign, International Security Assistance Forces and Afghan troops focused on defeating the anticipated spring offensive by the Taliban, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters yesterday.
Gates said he plans to urge the 26-member organization to continue to ramp up efforts by sending in operational mentor and liaison teams to foster a long-term strategic goal for a stable, secure Afghanistan that will be capable of governing and providing the peace and prosperity that has been missing in the war-torn country for decades.
Senior U.S. defense officials have said NATO countries need to send 20 to 30 teams into Afghanistan in order to quickly improve economic and reconstruction efforts there.
The defense secretary also said better coordination for economic assistance for reconstruction is needed within the 42 countries contributing in Afghanistan and suggested a senior civilian representative to coordinate the contributions and activities of NATO.
This evening, allies will continue to discuss efforts in Afghanistan during a working dinner of the North Atlantic Council.