NATO's top commander U.S. General James L. Jones has given reporters an in-depth update on NATO operations in Afghanistan, where attacks by Taleban forces have increased dramatically. The general said progress has been made, but strongly urged more help from the international community.
U.S. Marine General James Jones, NATO's supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, says the just concluded Operation Medusa in southern Afghanistan was an unexpectedly tough battle, and a setback for Taleban forces.
"But what was really most surprising is the change in the tactics because they decided to stand and fight in a fairly conventional, linear sense. And they paid a very heavy price for it. And the outcome was that they retreated and we are now in the consolidation phase and we are going to start bringing aid and construction to that region."
The general says around 1,000, and maybe more, out of a total of some 4,000 Taleban fighters were killed during the two week operation.
Operation Medusa took place about 80 kilometers west of the city of Kandahar, a key symbolic and strategic region of the country. He said it lies in the crossroads of the former stronghold of the Taleban, an area that produces opium and is beset by lawlessness and ineffective local government.
A recent spike in suicide and roadside bombings and the assassination of a governor has created the perception that the situation in Afghanistan has suddenly grown worse.
The general says most of the recent violence was in southern Afghanistan, where there has been until now, almost no steady NATO presence. And he says he is sure that NATO forces can handle whatever attacks the Taleban may stage in the future.
"I think that what has happened in the south, and the south is where the focus of where this violence is, is we have disturbed the hornets' nest and the hornets are swarming," he said. "We need to make them understand that that nest is not going to be there for them anymore in that particular region."
Despite their retreat, General Jones says he fully expects Taleban fighters to regroup and move into other areas where NATO has no strong presence, perhaps in the west.
He says stabilizing Afghanistan over the long term will depend on reconstruction and development as well as a military response to the violence.
"It is my strong feeling that success in Afghanistan is not a military problem," he added. "It is an important component, but if military action is not followed up by visible, tangible, sizable and correctly focused reconstruction and development efforts, then we will be in Afghanistan for much longer than we need to be."
General Jones says much more must be done to seriously begin reforming the police and judicial system. And, perhaps, most corrosive according to the general, is Afghanistan's growing narcotics trade. He says record drug harvests are spreading corruption and crime, destroying the creation of a viable economy, and ultimately, are helping finance the Taleban, tribal, and other remnant al-Qaida fighters who are determined to destabilize the Karzai government.
For General Jones, the exit strategy of all the 37 nations that have a stake in rebuilding Afghanistan is to come up with effective ways to combat those critical areas.
And he reported that NATO allies, who initially refused a request for an additional 2,500 troops earlier this month, have come forward with most of the extra troops needed.