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Afghanistan: Senior Adviser Says NATO Is Staying, With Extra Power

Jamie Shea (Courtesy Photo) Insurgents in Afghanistan have intensified attacks on security forces in that country in recent weeks as part of a promised 'spring offensive.' The latest response of the U.S.-led coalition, to which members of NATO are key contributors, is Operation Mountain Lion, targeting suspected mountain strongholds of the insurgents. Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke on the sidelines of a Salzburg Seminar session on the public cost of terrorism with Jamie Shea -- the director of policy planning in the Private Office of NATO's secretary-general -- about the broader strategic response to the deteriorating security situation in suthern Afghanistan, the alliance's commitment to that country, and cooperation with Pakistan.

RFE/RL: The situation in Afghanistan is worsening. There are more suicide attacks, which the Afghan government claims are the work of Arab terrorists, arguing that it is not in the nature of Afghans to blow themselves up. They also say that these suicide bombers come from or through Pakistan. How will NATO respond to this new reality in the country?

Jamie Shea: Well, I think that the first thing is that Taliban, which of course is behind these attacks, is unable to hold territory or to conquer towns or to reestablish its authority. The only thing they can do is to organize suicide attacks. But they are not going to come back to power in Afghanistan. That said, you are quite right: Obviously there is a danger, a danger to NATO troops, a danger to Afghan citizens and officials. And this is obviously a challenge to [Hamid] Karzai, the president, as he extends the authority of the legitimate, elected government of Afghanistan to the south.

So we accept that the south is not going to be like the north. We know that. It's going to be more demanding, more challenging, the rules of engagement have to be more robust, the force posture has to be more robust. We need more helicopters, more air cover.

But the good news is that the situation has not deterred NATO. We have not run away. The British have made an enormous commitment for the next two years, the Canadians.... The Dutch parliament voted [in early February to send troops to join NATO's expanded mission in southern Afghanistan], after a difficult debate, but they voted. And the expansion of NATO's mission to the south will go forward. This spring the United States has made it clear that it will also be part of NATO's mission as it expands to the east. So, while not trying to underestimate the difficulties, the good thing is that NATO with public support -- I mentioned the Dutch parliament -- is aware of it and it's going to go to the south. But clearly the southern part of the country needs to be pacified if NGOs, civil reconstruction agencies are going to go back in.

RFE/RL: Well, they are unable to do it now...

Jamie Shea: That is the reason why NATO has to expand the mission, because we have to create an environment of security throughout the country in which the reconstruction can go ahead. Clearly, the Afghan army is not yet able to take on this task alone. So it will require the assistance of NATO.

On the other hand, we are now starting a security cooperation program with the Afghans to deal with things like border management, to assist with counternarcotics [efforts] -- because there is obviously a link between the drugs trade and extremism and terrorism -- and to train and equip and assist the Afghan army to be able gradually to take over the security responsibilities. Mr. [Abdul Rahim] Wardak, the Afghan minister of defense, was at NATO several weeks ago. And he believes that, with NATO assistance, as he said publicly, the Afghans should be able to assume this responsibility after about five years.

RFE/RL: Is NATO prepared to be there for five years?

Jamie Shea: Well, I think we've got staying power. Look at the record. We were in Bosnia for nine years after the Dayton peace agreement. And we are still there, albeit not with a big peacekeeping force any longer but giving assistance to the new Bosnian army, which has being established finally with the three old armies merging under one unified command. Nobody would have predicted that after Dayton. We now see, with the new agreement on the Bosnian constitution, that finally, after 10 years, it is moving ahead. So I think that the lesson we learned is that it's not mission impossible, but it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of staying power. Kosovo: We've been there for seven years. At first it was very difficult, as we all agreed, but now the status talks are going ahead and there will be some resolution of the issue. I don't know what it's going to be, but it will be by the end of the year. And we've been in Afghanistan for three years now.

'Staying Power'

So, I think that NATO has staying power. There may be debates in the alliance before we launch these operations, but once they are launched everybody knows what we are going in for. Eleven partner countries, including Australia and New Zealand, are joining us in Afghanistan and my sense is that we are there for the long, long haul. Nobody wants to abandon Afghanistan, particularly after a free and fair election and the first signs of democracy -- and also, you know, let's be honest, with the prospect of those Al-Qaeda terrorist training camps coming back. So I think this is not a charitable exercise; I think we also see it as linked to our own security.

RFE/RL: You said that the mandate should be changed now that NATO is moving to the south and southeast of Afghanistan. What will that mandate be like?

Jamie Shea: Well, it's going to be more robust. That's to say, the troops will have heavier equipment than you see on a traditional peacekeeping activity. You mention roadside bombs: vehicles have to have a certain degree of armored protection. We need better intelligence to anticipate possible threats. That means more air cover, satellite reconnaissance, signals, helicopters, rapid-reaction mobility. The provincial reconstruction teams in the south are obviously going to need a high degree of protection, physical security -- what you've seen in the north or elsewhere. There will also have to be a high degree of what we call in NATO jargon "synergy" with the American-led counterterrorist operation, Enduring Freedom. The missions will be distinct. But in terms of intelligence-sharing, in terms of a coordinated command structure, there will be a high degree of cooperation.

RFE/RL: Is Pakistan being helpful?

Jamie Shea: Yes, Pakistan is grateful to NATO because we sent a NATO response force a few months ago to assist them after the devastating earthquake that they had. And we also organized a major airlift. We have concluded an agreement on the line of communication for our supplies across Pakistan. And Pakistan also has a very big challenge with its domestic terrorism. You've seen the Pakistani army operating -- with some loss of life, it has to be said -- in the tribal provinces in the northwest, in Waziristan and so on. And yes, as we move south, closer to Pakistan border, then obviously the dialogue will have to be stepped up.

RFE/RL: So you want to say that there are no grounds for the recent complaints of President [Hamid] Karzai that Pakistan is not helping enough, that it's not cutting down infiltrations by Arab terrorists across the border?

Jamie Shea: Well, I know that everybody of course wants to stop the terrorist attacks, that's normal. The border is a very long one; indeed it's a very mountainous one, we all know. We know that it's not easy to monitor every dirt track that goes across the mountains. One of the great problems with terrorism is that, because [terrorists] operate in very small groups, very lightly armored, they are not easy to pick up. It's not like you are moving a tank column along the motorway that can easily be monitored.

So we don't underestimate the difficulties. But, as I've said, we've had a good relationship with Pakistan in the past few years, particularly in the wake of the assistance after the earthquake. And President [Pervez] Musharraf has declared his total determination to fight terrorism, he has handed over many Al-Qaeda suspects to the United States that had been arrested in Pakistan. We'll work constructively together -- of that I have no doubt.

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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