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NATO's Afghan Strategy Taking Longer than Expected

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Jennifer Glasse

The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal says the effort to assert control over the key southern city of Kandahar will take longer than anticipated, as Afghan and international troops and officials encounter challenges as they work to establish security and convince local people to support the Afghan government rather than the Taliban.  

American Lieutenant General William Caldwell started NATO's training mission in Afghanistan six months ago, and while there has been progress in training the army and police, Caldwell says there have been many lessons.

"The biggest lesson I think as we all know, nothing happens as fast as we would like it to happen," said General Caldwell.

Caldwell was brought in as part of General Stanley McChrystal's Afghan Strategy which focuses on winning the trust of the population. Caldwell says Afghan security forces must show they are trustworthy.

"The way you really win over the people is by your demonstrated actions, out there operating among them and that comes from a professionalized force," he added.

Building a professionalized force has been fraught with challenges – Caldwell says the biggest one is illiteracy – the vast majority of police and army recruits can not read or write. That means getting the forces up to standards will take time.

"When somebody says to me when do you think you'll really see the professionalization of the police and the army and the air corps, my response is probably not until next year," General Caldwell said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has set July, 2011 as a date to begin what is expected to be a very gradual withdrawal of American troops, and a transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan forces. Right now thousands of U.S. forces continue to pour into the country, mainly into the South, in an effort to establish enough security for that to happen.

But British Major General Nick Carter heads NATO forces in Southern Afghanistan. He says the solution isn't just a military one.

"This problem is very much a political problem and the old Clausewitzian dictum (Clausewitz was a Prussian soldier and military theorist) that war is an extension of politics by other means is reversed in Afghanistan, Politics is really an extension of war by other means," said Major General Nick Carter. "And that's because governance has to be the determining criteria with all of this."

Carter says the plan on paper at least is simple.

"What we're trying to do is to connect the Afghan population to its government," Major General Nick Carter said. "We do that through having more representative, transparent and inclusive government, and we do it by having the security fully in support of Afghan government."

But NATO is not in charge of the Afghan government, it works alongside it. And critics say one of the biggest challenges to success in Afghanistan is that NATO is perceived by the people to be propping up local leaders widely seen as corrupt.

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