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Afghanistan: NATO Promises Robust Action In South

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO will "Stay the course" in Afghanistan (file photo) (AFP) BRUSSELS, June 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Defense ministers representing the 37 nations participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) today met with their Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak in Brussels.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer promised after the meeting that the alliance would "stay the course" in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban insurgency in the south. He also called on the international community to step in with more development aid.

'Test' For ISAF

NATO-led ISAF troops are in the process of moving into the south, which will nearly double ISAF's strength in Afghanistan, to some 17,000 troops. ISAF's expansion, led by Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Canada, is scheduled to be complete by late July.
"Are we meeting resistance? Yes, we meet resistance, of course, because
there are spoilers of the democratic process in Afghanistan who do not
like to see NATO and its partners coming to the south," -- de Hoop Scheffer

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said today that ISAF is being "tested" in a hitherto "relatively ungoverned space."

"Are we meeting resistance? Yes, we meet resistance, of course, because there are spoilers of the democratic process in Afghanistan who do not like to see NATO and its partners coming to the south," de Hoop Scheffer said. "They want progress to stop. [The] Taliban? Yes, certainly [the] Taliban, but also narco-traffickers, other criminals. But let no one doubt NATO's resolve [or] capability."

De Hoop Scheffer said NATO and its ISAF partners will have the necessary forces and "robust" rules of engagement to prevail against the Taliban. He also reiterated a long-standing promise that NATO will "stay the course" in Afghanistan and not leave before the country is secure.

Minister Predicts Quick End To Unrest

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak was upbeat in his assessment of the southern insurgency. He said it represented a short-lived attempt to take advantage of the handover of the responsibility for security in the region from the U.S.-led coalition to ISAF. And he said it was calculated to unsettle public opinion in Europe and elsewhere.

The south has been wracked by violence in recent weeks (epa)

"I think we have taken the necessary measures," Wardak said. "I have just come from that region, three, four weeks back I was there, and I think we will have maybe one or two months [during] which there will be a little bit of crisis, but with the measures already taken and also our joint operation plan, jointly with ISAF and [the] Afghan National Army, in a short period, I think, you will see a drastic change."

Wardak appealed to ISAF nations to intensify their training of Afghan troops. An official present at the ISAF-Afghan meeting -- which was the first of its kind -- said Wardak had also asked for more equipment and complained that the weapons donated by Western countries are often substandard.

Wardak said that with proper assistance Afghanistan could at some point in future field an army of 70,000 men -- enough, he said, to secure the country internally.

More Than Security Needed

The NATO diplomat said the prevalent feeling in today's ISAF-Afghan meeting was that the country is in need of urgent measures that go beyond security. Drug trafficking is a long-established concern, and a number of ministers urged more effective and better standardized police-training programs.

The need for action against poverty, and for the rehabilitation of health care and education sectors were singled out by a number of ministers, mostly representing Northern Europe.

De Hoop Scheffer also called for broader international assistance. "There's much more work to be done in Afghanistan and there it is important that NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the G8 [Group of Eight] group of industrial rich nations also are standing shoulder-to-shoulder to see that this is a longer term commitment vis-a-vis the people and government of Afghanistan. NATO will do its part, NATO will provide security," he said. "But that's only one leg of the stool and there are other legs."

Promisingly, today's meeting was also attended by an EU representative who said Brussels, among the biggest donors in the country, is ready to directly fund reconstruction projects. However, the projects will need to be civilian in nature and separate from NATO-led operations.