By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
April 17, 2008 - A commitment to long-term success and improving cooperation with the Afghan government are the keys to success in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman there said today. “We can see a new way of doing things or development on doing things," NATO spokesman Mark Laity said in a conference call from Kabul, Afghanistan, with online journalists and "bloggers."
During the call, Laity referred to the NATO summit held in Bucharest, Romania, on April 3. During the summit declaration, the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force mission, currently comprising 40 nations, was made NATO's top priority.
Laity explained that he hopes NATO's summit declaration will have an impact in Afghanistan.
"There was a lot more unity there than in the run up to it, and I think you saw a willingness by NATO nations to bury their differences and actually try and get on with something better than they had in the past," he said. "At the same time, you saw the United Nations come out with a strengthened mandate and new special representative [Ambassador Kai Eide] to the United Nations' secretary general, who is being told to take more of a leadership role, cooperate more with ISAF, and finally we saw a commitment to the long term."
Laity said he is pleased to see the reinvigorated strategy.
"To win in Afghanistan, we're not going to win by fighting, we're not going to win by development, we're not going to win by having government -- we're going to win if all three are working together," he said.
That has been the problem up to this point -- working together hasn't always gone well, which can be problematic, he said.
Despite some difficulties in getting all areas to cooperate, he said, the NATO force in Afghanistan has had an impact on the Taliban insurgency, which he stated is currently contained.
"It's not resurgence, as some people say, but it still is a potent threat," he said. "They can still do a lot of damage and keep the pot boiling, but to defeat them, it's not just enough to do it in the field; we got have better development, more jobs, better government -- everything working together. That's the challenge for us now."
Another challenge facing ISAF is convincing farmers to cultivate crops other than poppies. The best way that NATO can help in reducing the menace of narcotics is by improving security.
"The essential problem is not just eradicating poppy; it's what the people who are growing poppy should do," he said. "What we need to do is create the alternative economy, which being legal is also profitable, and to do that, we need better security.
"If we can make an area secure, people can build roads; they can grow alternate crops and get them to market," he said.
Despite reducing the areas where poppies are grown, ISAF has seen an increase poppy farms in concentrated areas. Laity said four percent of the agricultural land in Afghanistan is being used to grow poppies, and the Taliban and narcotics warlords continue to reap the benefits of this crop.
"There is a close and, we think, increasing linkage," he said. "So whether you are growing poppy just because you want to make money or whether you're a Taliban, you want one thing, and that's insecurity."
He added that the Taliban are increasingly being funded by the proceeds of poppy, often through allowing its transit through areas they are fighting over.
"In effect, poppy is helping to fund the insurgency," he said.
Securing narcotics-prone areas is one key to successfully eradicating both the Taliban and the drug lords.
"Eradication is only the beginning. Security is important, but it is only the beginning. You need to give people an alternative to poppy," he said.
Laity cautioned that security still remains one of the biggest problems. Without security, the sense of synergy can't take hold. The lack of security continues to allow the movement of illegal drugs and profits to grow from the illegal wealth, he said.
"It's a huge problem, and I don't want to understate it," he added.
Laity said he is encouraged by the increasing number ofAfghan police and Afghan soldiers assisting with security efforts.
"They understand their territory better than we do, and they can often smell the bad guy," he said. "They can deal with these issues in a way that we can't."
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg is assigned to the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)