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NATO Commander Says World Must Do More for Afghanistan

The commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan says the international community is not doing enough to provide troops and a coordinated reconstruction effort to help stabilize the country. American McNeill spoke from Afghanistan with reporters at the Pentagon, and VOA's Al Pessin reports.

In spite of repeated requests from senior NATO officials, General McNeill says member nations still have not provided all the troops and equipment he needs, now that the alliance is responsible for security throughout Afghanistan.

"The things that we're short that have the most effect on us, first, our maneuver forces, 3.5 to four battalions short; secondly, helicopters, that would include medium and heavy-lift helicopters and attack helicopters, and then thirdly the OMLTs, the Operations, Mentors, Liaison Teams," said General McNeill. "Any of those resources, and especially all of them, would be helpful."

Three and a half to four battalions would be about 5,000 troops.

General McNeill also says another long-standing NATO problem continues to hamper his operations - the practice of various governments putting 'caveats,' or restrictions, on how their forces can be used.

"Caveats preclude you to planning a military operation to its most effective and efficient state," he said. "Having said that, our choice is to work quietly with various governments about middle ground on certain caveats. We've been successful in some cases, not successful in other cases."

But General McNeill says he has not had to "dramatically alter" any operational plan because of the caveats. In addition, the NATO commander says although the international reconstruction effort is large, it is not coordinated well enough.

"There may be a lack of unified effort among the international community in terms of the reconstruction effort," noted General McNeill. "There's certainly a lot of effort going on, but it's not necessarily unified under one banner. If it were, I believe that that would be most helpful."

The general says aid donors and the national government need to coordinate with each other and with local Afghan officials before launching projects, and that the Afghans should be given more control over what gets done, and where. Officials have said frequently that an effective, nationwide reconstruction effort in essential to convince the Afghan people to support the government, rather than the insurgents.

On a related subject, in answer to a reporter's question, General McNeill declined to directly criticize Pakistan for failing to prevent Taliban insurgents from using its territory as a safe haven. But he said such havens hurt Afghanistan's potential for a secure future.

"I do not see that long-term stability inside of Afghanistan is possible if there are sanctuaries just out of reach for both the [NATO] alliance and the Afghan national security forces," he said.

General McNeill reports that insurgent attacks are up slightly in recent weeks, but he says most of the increase in clashes is due to the NATO offensive designed to weaken the Taliban and other insurgent groups. He also says the Afghan government faces many challenges in trying to extend its authority throughout the country, and that the international community will need to maintain its commitment to Afghanistan "for some time."