By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 4, 2007 - NATO aims to render the Taliban and other extremists in Afghanistan irrelevant by establishing a security landscape that allows the creation of news jobs and bolsters faith in national institutions, the commander of NATO forces said in a news conference today. Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, said NATO is helping to drive a wedge between extremist leaders and what he referred to as "day soldiers," Afghan guns-for-hire who are persuaded to join insurgencies as a means of subsistence.
"The whole key here is not kill the Taliban, but to make them irrelevant by providing options that (have yet to become) available," Craddock told reporters at the National Press Club. "(Afghans) sign up not because they're ideologues, but because they need money to put food on the table for their kids."
NATO continues to provide security across Afghanistan, but countering the lure of extremism demands a broad counterinsurgency that includes an economic push in addition to NATO's military efforts, the general said. "When jobs occur, the angry young men do not join these insurgencies," he added.
Craddock called Operation Enduring Freedom NATO's "main effort." A year ago, NATO's International Security Assistance Force took full control of the security situation in Afghanistan, where almost 40,000 from 37 countries are involved in the effort. The United States is the largest provider of forces for the NATO effort.
In addition to securing Afghanistan and helping to extend the authority of the national government, NATO's other stated goal is to help establish sustainable reconstruction and economic development. The general credited non-military participants with helping to solve Afghanistan's "big-picture problem."
"Some of those other tasks of stabilizing and rebuilding the country include development of democratic institutions, which extend effective governments and rule of law throughout the country," he said.
To objectively judge progress in Afghanistan, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe developed some 63 "complex and nuanced" measurements to inform its assessment, Craddock said.
"I'm convinced that the international community along with NATO can continue to deliver improvements to the quality of life of the Afghan people through a comprehensive approach," said Craddock, basing his assessment on the stated metrics. "I believe, personally, that the Afghan national security forces and NATO forces have the initiative."
NATO's success is directly linked to providing an Afghan face to security, Craddock said. A survey by the Asia Foundation found that nearly 90 percent of the Afghan people trust the Afghan National Army, which is nearing its end-strength of around 80,000 soldiers by the end of 2010, he added.
Craddock noted that the Afghan army is showing improvements, with retention rates for units higher than 50 percent, according to the Afghan minister of defense.
"They are true partners, and our operations are now routinely combined," he said. "They are increasingly leading in some operations, and are eager to assume responsibility for security of their own country."
To enlarge the Afghan army's role, Craddock said, NATO is increasing the number of liaison teams, 15-20 person groups that assist in mentoring, training, and increasing cooperation between Afghan troops and International Security Assistance Forces.
"The (teams) are training the Afghans, they're coordinating the planning of operations and ensuring the national army units get vital support," he said. "The training they provide is the most important contribution NATO is making in providing security and stability in Afghanistan.
"It is our best investment in Afghanistan's successful future," he said, "and it is time well spent."