The European Union's senior envoy to Afghanistan says the NATO-led drive to secure the south of the country must succeed. The EU diplomat warned that failure to defeat Taleban insurgents could result in the country once again becoming a major haven for terrorists.
The special EU representative for Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, briefed reporters in the capital, Kabul.
The veteran Spanish diplomat warned terrorist groups in the region could still regain a foothold in Afghanistan.
"This is why NATO cannot fail in the south," Vendrell said. "We are not going to tolerate any kind of haven for terrorist elements in Afghanistan and on this we will stay here for as long as it takes to get this issue resolved."
NATO forces are poised to assume command of security operations throughout Afghanistan's insurgency-wracked southern provinces.
Vendrell said that by August there would be more than 18,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, along with equal numbers of U.S. troops.
Violence in southern Afghanistan has intensified sharply in recent months. Taleban insurgents have carried out hundreds of attacks throughout the region before the NATO deployment.
U.S. forces are already leading a major counterinsurgency operation in the area.
Tuesday, U.S. military officials said coalition forces have killed more than 600 suspected Taleban militants in the past month, the bloodiest period in Afghanistan in nearly five years.
Vendrell said NATO forces will also be focusing on basic development projects to help win local support.
"They are not there only to chase terrorists, but also to help in the reconstruction of the south and in improving the governance in the south," Vendrell said.
He said a top priority should be dismissing local officials with links to the area's enormous illegal drug industry.
The area produces much of Afghanistan's illegal opium crop, the world's largest.
Vendrell said government corruption helped fuel local support for the Taleban in the 1990s and is a major reason for their ongoing popularity throughout southern Afghanistan.