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Afghanistan: NATO Commander Says Drugs Biggest Threat

NATO Supreme Allied Commander James L. Jones in Kabul. (official site) Speaking at a press briefing on 8 February in New York, General James L. Jones, the supreme allied commander of the NATO military alliance, called the ongoing deployment of foreign troops to Afghanistan "by far the most ambitious operation" for NATO since the Cold War. Jones also said by the end of the year, NATO may assume full control of foreign-led operations in the country. The alliance is now looking to expand its presence into the southern region of Afghanistan, and will then move into in the eastern sector of the country as well. Jones says the major security threat in Afghanistan is not the activities of Al-Qaeda or neo-Taliban fighters, but the drug trade and corruption.

NEW YORK, 9 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Foreign troops serving under NATO command in Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been the target of heated attacks in recent days.

The continued outrage over the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad has led to protests in much of the Muslim world.

Some of the worst has been in Afghanistan, where as many as a dozen demonstrators have been killed in protest violence. Four of the deaths took place in the northwest town of Maymana, when hundreds of protesters stormed the gates of a Norwegian military base, leading to a firefight.

'Law And Order'

It remains unclear who is responsible for the shooting deaths of the four protesters. But Jones said the Norwegian ISAF troops acted appropriately under the circumstances.
Jones said Afghanistan is the most visible example of NATO's rapidly changing role in the 21st century. It is a transformation, he said, of not only military capability, but philosophy as well.

"In Maymana, where we had the outbreak, the local forces were able to restore law and order, and avoid what could have become a very dangerous situation," Jones said.

He added that the performance of the ISAF troops under the force's commander, Lieutenant General Mauro Del Vecchio was, in his opinion, "very, very consistent with the rules of engagements and capabilities. They exercised restraint, they followed the rules of engagement, and right now, at least as of this morning, calm and order is being restored."

Joining Forces

Commenting on the evolving partnership between the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom and ISAF actions in Afghanistan, Jones said NATO is looking forward to bringing the missions under the control of a single command and control headquarters, thus completing a plan that was laid out in Munich in 2004.

Jones said Afghanistan is the most visible example of NATO's rapidly changing role in the 21st century. It is a transformation, he said, of not only military capability, but philosophy as well.

"The 20th-century NATO was always conceived to be a static, reactive, defensive alliance. It was never really projected to go anywhere out of area," Jones said. "And the 21st century realities are calling for a NATO that is more agile, more flexible, more expeditionary."

The more aggressive missions in Afghanistan, Jones said, are to be led by the United States Central Command. He said NATO has put into motion structures that will guarantee that all participating nations are doing what they expect to be able to do and that they're doing it in a safe way.

Fighting Terror

He added that each country participating through ISAF in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan is carefully calculating its own level of engagement and the most efficient way to protect its troops.

"The expansion of the alliance in Afghanistan has dealt with the issues of what it is nations are willing to do or not willing to do in terms of counterterrorism and antiterrorism," Jones said. "We have worked that out in such a way that we feel confident that the mission can expand under NATO, and

The NATO commander says the alliance is looking forward to bringing the ISAF and U.S.-led missions under the control of a single command and control headquarters.

those countries that wish to participate in the more offensive part of the counterterrorist mission are free to do so, and we have a very well-developed mechanism by which they can do so."

Jones said it is important to ensure that NATO helps the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai bring to full capability the instruments of governance, security, and policing that will allow the country to function more independently from NATO efforts.

Drugs, Corruption 'More Serious' Problem

"The situation in Afghanistan, in my view, in terms of threats, is multifaceted. I'm not as much concerned about a return of the Taliban or Al-Qaeda as I am about the success of the war on drugs, which is accounting for about 50 percent of the gross domestic product of that country.

"To me, that's a much more serious problem," he said. "It has its own threats with regard to violence. I would also identify corruption, criminality and other aspects of the 'threat envelope' that face all of us in Afghanistan, not just ISAF."

The supreme allied commander of NATO said the groups have agreed on how to preserve the individual identities of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom and ISAF.

The command and control mechanism is essentially centered, he said, around the fact that the deputy commander for security will have dual responsibilities -- heading security for the ISAF portion of the mission, and coordinating the more aggressive counterterrorist missions that will be conducted by United States Central Command in coordination with ISAF.