The commander of NATO forces, which are to take over most of the international military mission in Afghanistan this year, says the Taleban and al-Qaida are not capable of conducting a significant insurgency in the country, and that if they try they will be defeated. U.S. Marine General James Jones also says that when NATO expands its force in Afghanistan, it will be, to an extent, merged with the U.S.-led coalition under one American commander. General Jones held a news conference at the Pentagon on Monday.
Insurgent attacks in Afghanistan have been on the rise. But General Jones says there are still very few attacks, and he does not expect any significant increase.
"The Taleban and al-Qaida are not in a position to where they can re-start an insurgency of any size and major scope," he said.
And General Jones says even though the main mission of NATO forces in Afghanistan is to maintain stability and help rebuild the country, his troops are ready to respond to any moves by insurgents, tribal leaders, criminal gangs and anyone else.
"If there is a test, the outcome is going to be swift and decisive," he said. "And then I think that you'll see the terrorists or whoever it is that's doing it will take their business [operations] elsewhere."
The general attributed some of the recent increase in attacks to increased operations by NATO forces. NATO now has the main security mission in northern and western Afghanistan, and is expected to move into the rest of the country by the end of the year. When that happens, General Jones says a unified command will be created, bringing together the NATO mission with the U.S.-led coalition, which will continue to have the main responsibility for counter-terrorism operations.
"There will be a U.S. major general who will be in charge of security for Afghanistan, writ large[overall]," he said. "He will have two hats. In his NATO hat he will be working for the NATO commander and he will be in charge of security, writ large. In his CENTCOM (Central Command) hat, he will be directing the more offensive operations, for instance, along the border, or wherever you need to search for bin Laden and those things. So there will be a much more cohesive effort and we will essentially have one headquarters. And that's been agreed to by 26 countries."
General Jones says the new Afghan army is also playing a growing role in both stability and counter-terrorism operations. But he says other aspects of Afghan development are lagging behind, including the government's ability to deliver services to the people nationwide. He says helping achieve that is part of NATO's mission, and he believes alliance members realize it will not be just a one- or two-year effort.
"I would say that NATO is going in there with the idea that it's going to be there to do what it takes, that it feels that Afghanistan is well worth the effort," Jones said. "The expectations of the people of Afghanistan are quite high. And from my standpoint, it's a question of building the governance of Afghanistan so that it can meet the people's expectations."
General Jones says NATO has the capability and resources to handle any mission it takes on, even though member nations have been slow to commit resources in some situations. And he notes that all 26 NATO members have committed to the Afghanistan mission, and that 10 other countries want to participate, too.