By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
May 9, 2008 - U.S., NATO and Afghan forces' efforts are preventing Taliban insurgents and transnational terrorists from regaining a foothold in Afghanistan, but more support is required from NATO and the international community, a senior U.S. military officer told members of a local think tank here yesterday. "NATO has not failed, and I assure you that we are succeeding and we will continue to succeed" in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock remarked during his speech at the Heritage Foundation.
However, NATO and the international community "can and must do more" to support the mission in Afghanistan, said Craddock, who wears two hats as NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe and as chief of U.S. European Command.
NATO "has not yet completely filled" its agreed-to commitment of troops and capabilities to Afghanistan, Craddock said, noting there's still a shortage of key military functions and skills such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; communications; and air support.
"Each nation has its own internal issues that it must address, but a completely resourced force sends a clear message to our adversary and to the Afghan people," Craddock explained. "And, the message is: NATO is committed to achieving success."
In addition, the more than 80 conditions of deployment, known as caveats, among NATO-member troops in Afghanistan reduce force flexibility and increases risk, Craddock noted.
Establishing peace and stability throughout Afghanistan is of paramount importance to U.S. and European security interests, Craddock said, noting the pace of globalization is causing many nations' economic and security needs to intersect.
"Just as economies are increasingly interdependent in our globalized world, our external and internal security is equally interwoven," Craddock explained.
"Afghanistan is a mission of necessity, rather than of choice," the four-star general emphasized.
Less than a decade ago, al-Qaida terrorists used Afghanistan as a training ground, Craddock recalled. Today, it's crucial "to ensure that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is never again a place that transnational terrorists call home," Craddock said.
What occurs in Afghanistan also affects the Middle East and Asia, the general observed.
"One only need look at the borders of Afghanistan to recognize the complexity of the geopolitical situation," Craddock said. "Pakistan, Iran, China and the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union are all affected by the situation in Afghanistan."
Therefore, "extremism and terrorism must not continue to threaten stability in the region or even beyond," Craddock said. NATO support in Afghanistan remains essential, he emphasized.
About 47,000 NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, Craddock said. At last month's NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, alliance members reaffirmed their long-term commitment to Afghanistan, he said. France announced it would send a battalion of troops to eastern Afghanistan, with additional contributions pledged by Poland and the Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, successful military operations conducted by Afghan army and NATO forces have compelled Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists to adopt hit-and-run tactics, Craddock observed.
So far in 2008, about 91 percent of insurgent activity has occurred within just 8 percent of Afghanistan's 396 districts, Craddock said.
The Afghan National Army continues to grow in numbers and capability, and increasingly is taking the lead in battles against terrorists, Craddock reported. Meanwhile, he added, efforts are continuing to improve the performance of Afghanistan's national police, which still lags behind the Afghan army.
"Police performance must be urgently enhanced," Craddock said. "Recent pay and structural reforms will help, but corruption, criminality and a lack of qualified leadership remain pressing issues."
The application of military or constabulary authority all by themselves cannot address all of Afghanistan's needs, Craddock said.
"Certainly, a military solution alone will not secure and stabilize the country of Afghanistan," Craddock said. "Security, governance and reconstruction and development activities must complement and support each other."
To date, more than 7,500 civil-military reconstruction projects have been launched across Afghanistan, Craddock said, of which about 75 percent have been completed. "We're finally starting to see progress in the area of reconstruction and development," Craddock said.
Children's education programs are moving forward, he added, noting there are now more than 6 million students, 41 percent of them girls, who were not permitted under Taliban rule to attend school.
Afghanistan's child-mortality rate has been reduced by 25 percent since 2001, Craddock reported, noting that more than 16 million vaccinations have been administered to Afghan children over the last five years.
"So, NATO is making a difference in Afghanistan, but as I said, we can and must do more," Craddock said.