STUTTGART, Germany — Following two recent trips to Afghanistan, NATO’s top military commander has drawn some initial conclusions about the war effort there, which he describes as "serious" but "far from hopeless."

Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s new military commander, wrote in a July 25 posting on his blog "From the Bridge" that the actions taken over the course of the next year will determine the chances for a successful outcome.

"[T]he situation is extremely serious. While I remain convinced that the Coalition, working with the Afghan people, will ultimately win in Afghanistan — the stakes are high — the situation is extremely challenging," Stavridis wrote in his blog posted at the U.S. European Command Web site.

"While my own thinking is still evolving, and I am awaiting General McChrystal’s assessment, I believe there are four fundamental keys to achieving a successful outcome in Afghanistan," Stavridis stated, referring to a much-anticipated war plan by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, top commander of U.S. and NATO forces there.

Stavridis’ four-pronged approach:Putting the Afghan people at the "center of gravity." Killing the Taliban alone won’t bring peace. Reducing collateral damage will be essential.Achieving an effective balance between civil and military activities with an emphasis on diplomacy, development and defense. Security will not be achieved by guns alone.Effective strategic communication. Messages must be well defined and communicated both to the Afghan people and the nations engaged in the conflict.Training Afghan security forces to defend and police their own nation."General McChrystal is analyzing how big this force should be, but Afghanistan is a big country and eventually this will be ‘how it ends’ — by training Afghans to defend and police their own nation," Stavridis said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.

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