The British general who commands NATO forces in Afghanistan says he launched the country's first nationwide security plan on Tuesday, and that the international community must take advantage of gains made in fighting the Taliban during the summer and begin to deliver a better life to the Afghan people within the next six months.
Speaking from Kabul, General David Richards says he met with senior Afghan military officials Tuesday to give final orders for the security plan.
"Today I spent a morning with the chief of the Afghan Army and the chief of the Afghan Police being briefed and then giving final direction on the first Pan-Afghanistan security operation, in which the whole country will feel the effect of properly coordinated security operations," he said.
General Richards did not provide many details of the plan, but he said it will include an effort to improve security on major roads.
"It will include, for example, ensuring greater security on the highways, particularly the ring road that leads from Kabul down through the east, along the south and up to Herat, because the people need to feel that that is under the control of the government," he added.
The security plan is part of General Richards' effort to capitalize on victories over Taliban insurgents in recent months. He says NATO, the Afghan government and private aid organizations must now demonstrate to the people that they can deliver reconstruction and development.
"What we need to do is not deliver, or attempt to say we'll deliver, all these reconstruction and development projects overnight, because they know that's not possible," he explained. "What we need to show is demonstrable improvement. What we need to do is to persuade that it's all worth it by letting them see this upward trajectory of continuing improvement."
General Richards says if the Afghan government and the international community fail to deliver development projects during the next six months, they will face a much more difficult situation next spring, with more ordinary Afghans frustrated and ready to support the insurgents. He says if that happens, he will have some very pointed questions to ask the officials who are responsible for the reconstruction effort.
"To be frank, if we can't this winter, then I'm going to be saying to all the other people involved in this, 'what more can we do for you? You know, we're giving you these opportunities," he said. "There are still risks. But start, please, delivering' because at some point the military can do no more."
General Richards says in past years, the international community did not work hard enough to deliver development projects, believing that military victories were enough. But he says that is never enough when fighting an insurgency, and that NATO and the Afghan government can not afford to squander what he calls the 'psychological ascendancy' that the recent victories over Taliban forces provide.
The general also says cooperation from Pakistan is crucial for establishing long-term security in Afghanistan. But he says he was satisfied with the results of recent meetings he had in Islamabad, and he believes the Pakistani army will do all it can to control Taliban and other terrorist elements operating in the border area.