Jones has high hopes for NATO role in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — Gen. James L. Jones, supreme allied commander of NATO, toured Kabul and beyond Friday and Saturday in a flurry of briefings in advance of the alliance summit this week in Istanbul, Turkey.
Afghanistan and Iraq will figure high on the agenda. Some analysts have said NATO could up its presence in Afghanistan as a means of helping the United States in Iraq without actually going to Iraq.
Whatever the case, Jones hopes Afghanistan — NATO’s first foray outside Europe — isn’t forgotten. The mission still faces building a new army, rocket attacks and the prickly realities of warlords and drugs.
Jones came away from Kabul with two impressions confirmed: Despite troubles, Afghanistan is better than its rap; and that for NATO to fulfill its lofty hopes of reforming the former militant theocracy, member states will have to spend money.
“It’s a little bit like a lottery,” Jones said of the summit. “I’m anxious to see.”
Jones has big hopes, and would like to see expansion in as little as 30 days — provided world leaders will sign the check this week supporting:
• Some 2,000 more troops — among them light “expeditionary forces” — in addition to the 6,500 troops now participating in the International Security Assistance Force.
• More provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs, to help with infrastructure and social programs. NATO now runs one in Konduz and plans five more to augment the 13 established by the United States and its coalition.
• Quick response forces to guard these new PRTs.
• More aircraft, particularly C-130s for transport.
• Medical facilities, including a triage unit.
• New intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
The alliance plans to expand into the great Afghan expanse in a counterclockwise sweep. Now, it is active mainly in the capital, leaving much of the remote reconstruction to the United States’ Operation Enduring Freedom. Reconstruction is where NATO could help, leaving the Americans to hunt Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
“The problem for NATO is that Operation Enduring Freedom is more of a combat mission,” Jones said. “… NATO is more likely to adopt peacekeeping and reconstruction roles.”
Nonetheless, the insurgents remain a threat to NATO, said Canadian Lt. Col. Kent Davis, the security assistance force’s deputy operations and planning officer. “We face an almost constant threat of rocket attack,” he said.
To bring the place under control, NATO is striving to tame 100,000 former muhajadeen who make up the Afghan Militia Forces. NATO would like to see the fighters, mostly former Northern Alliance members who fought the Taliban, retire to civilian life and be replaced by the budding Afghan National Army.
It’s a tough job. The old muhajadeen know nothing but guns, and the new Afghan troops are innately fearless, but often undisciplined.
“Fighting is not the problem,” Jones said. “Making them into good soldiers is the problem.”
All these tasks, officials here said, means more help is needed from NATO, and by this summer.
“While there is the good spirit to support Afghanistan, the time is now,” said Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's foreign minister.
“For us, the summer is the last chance,” said Jean Arnault, the U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, referencing the country’s elections in September. “We need the security that NATO would provide.”
Jones is optimistic.
“I came away with the idea that Afghanistan is a better story than most people realize,” he said. “The Taliban and al-Qaida are definitely being dealt with. Most problems now are problems of governance.”
But he’s still a realist. Afghanistan is still a wild place. Europe’s NATO members have 2.4 million troops. Getting more of them would be Jones’ summit jackpot.
“NATO can do what it wishes to do if it’s willing to provide the resources,” Jones said.
“... It’s still too close to the bad old days, if you will.”