"We have lived up to our promises, and at the moment the signs are good that NATO is going to expand ISAF -- the International Security Assistance Force -- into the west of Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said. "We have covered the north now with a number of so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We will now go west, setting up what we call a 'forward support base' in Herat, and then we want to move counterclockwise to the south and the southeast of Afghanistan, as well."
De Hoop Scheffer said that NATO's forces in the country have, in general, been received well by the Afghan people. Asked why NATO, originally created to provide security for Western Europe, is now operating in Afghanistan, the secretary-general said the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 brought about a major shift in NATO policy.
"What is NATO doing in Afghanistan? Defending values at the Hindu Kush in the present day international climate," de Hoop Scheffer said. "We have to fight terrorism wherever it emerges. If we don't do it at the Hindu Kush, it will end up at our doorstep. In other words, this perception gap in the long run must be closed and must be healed -- that is, for NATO's future, of the utmost importance."
Another priority for NATO in Afghanistan, he said, will be providing additional security during parliamentary elections, scheduled for April. The secretary-general said that extra NATO battalions will be committed.
De Hoop Scheffer described NATO's operations in Afghanistan as a "moderate success." But he warned that without deeper involvement by the international community in the fight against drug production and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, NATO's ability to ensure the country's stability will be limited.
Referring to Afghanistan's neighbors, de Hoop Scheffer underlined the strategic role the Central Asian states play in the fight against terrorism. Having just returned from a trip to Central Asia and the Caucasus, de Hoop Scheffer said he envisions closer cooperation with these states.
"We need, by the way, Central Asian nations, and the Caucasian nations [to] play an important role in supporting the ISAF operation because we need the lines of communication -- to say in military terms -- [and] transit agreements with the Central Asians, to see that we can adequately run the ISAF operation in Afghanistan," de Hoop Scheffer said.
De Hoop Scheffer said Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia have all expressed interest in closer cooperation with NATO in its Partnership for Peace program.
"They all want to extend their partnership with NATO. Even Armenia has now applied for the so-called Individual Partnership Action Program, which means that we are going to develop a tailored, Armenia-tailored partnership program with that country, with Yerevan," de Hoop Scheffer said. "That goes for the Central Asian nations, as well. So that partnership is developing very well."
De Hoop Scheffer stressed that Turkey is playing a particularly active role in the Partnership for Peace program.