By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 10, 2007 - Training the Afghan National Army remains the key to stability in Afghanistan, the commander of NATO forces said in a Pentagon briefing today. Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, also said NATO must do more to stop narcotics cultivation -- primarily the opium trade -- in Afghanistan.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force took full control of the security situation in Afghanistan a year ago. With 37 countries involved, almost 40,000 soldiers now are involved in the effort. The United States is the largest provider of forces for the NATO effort.
Craddock said the security situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan remains difficult, and NATO has been forced "to conduct continuous military actions to counter those who want to bring the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan to a halt."
The key to security in the country is training and equipping more Afghan soldiers and police. "NATO's task is the army," he said. "We've got to put an Afghan face on security."
A survey by the Asia Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of the Afghan people trust the Afghan National Army. The force is fully integrated with soldiers from every area of the country, and is well on its way to reaching the projected end strength of 70,000 soldiers by 2010. "That means field, train, equip, (and have) competent leadership capable of operating on their own," Craddock said.
The Afghan army is showing improvements, with retention rates for units higher than 50 percent. NATO commanders and soldiers told the general during a recent trip to Afghanistan that they value the Afghans as partners and want more Afghan National Army soldiers as they conduct operations. "They are eager to assume responsibility," Craddock said. "They want to take the lead."
But NATO needs more operational mentoring and liaison teams to speed up the process, and NATO nations are coming forward with the 15- to 20-man teams. The teams not only mentor Afghans but also have the radio communications to call for fire or medical evacuation if needed.
The alliance needs to sustain its commitment to Afghanistan, Craddock said. "We always militarily prevail," he said, stressing that NATO troops routinely defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in combat. However, the Taliban have adopted terror tactics that strike against the very population they claim to represent.
NATO must maintain its military effort and support to fight this terrorism. "We must convince the Afghan people that the Taliban era of terror and intimidation is over," Craddock said.
He said the alliance could send a clear signal to the Taliban and their ilk with the "complete filling of our agreed statement of requirements -- the number of troops, units and organizations we need on the ground."
The alliance is still short of some key capabilities and enablers. In addition to trainers, these include helicopters and fixed-wing transport aircraft. "I believe a completely resourced force list will send a clear message to our adversary and the Afghan people that we are committed to achieving success," he said.
The general called on the international community to increase development efforts. "We continue to stress that continued success in Afghanistan will not be measured in a military victory," he said. "Success depends on offering a better way of life for the Afghan people. That means providing them jobs, electricity, schools, and health care."
He said the NATO provincial reconstruction teams have been successful in providing short-term "impact" projects, but only the international community can provide the long-term investments needed to create jobs and long-term opportunities.
NATO also must continue to engage with Pakistan, Craddock said. The alliance already has extensive military-to-military contacts with Pakistan, and there has been some progress, but this needs to continue and expand, the general said.
Working with the Afghan government to do more against the narcoterrorism problem is another task the alliance must address, Craddock said. State Department officials estimate that as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product comes from opium poppy cultivation. NATO can work with the Afghans and provide intelligence, work with the police officers, and give life-or-death aid to police officers engaged in counterdrug operations, Craddock said. But for long-term success, he added, Afghanistan must hit the labs refining the product, the traffickers and the kingpins.
"Much attention is focused on the eradication," he said. "Simply focusing on eradication only leads to disaffection by the element that benefits the least from the narcotics trade -- the farmers. It's my belief that for long-term success, you must address all the areas that contribute to this complex problem."
Finally, NATO must continue to stress and refine a comprehensive approach to operations in Afghanistan. The Afghan government or an international organization needs to coordinate military and civilian organizations as Afghanistan moves forward. This includes the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, military organizations and civilian agencies of many governments, Craddock said.
"The effective application of this comprehensive approach by the whole of the international community is the means to enable peace in Afghanistan, a country and a people ... that has been in conflict for more than three decades," the general said.