NATO's top commander says more than a military solution is needed for success in Afghanistan. General James Jones told senators Thursday on Capitol Hill that security and reconstruction must go hand-in-hand. He also warned that Afghanistan's growing opium trade is a danger to the country's stability.
General James Jones warned that over half of Afghanistan's economy is tied to the narcotics trade, and parts of the country currently producing the largest poppy crops are those that traditionally did not grow the flower used to make opium. Taleban militants are using the drug money to fund their insurgency against the government and international forces.
"It is clear that the influence of narcotics on all organs of emerging Afghan society is there: it fuels the insurgency; it contributes to the corruption; it is omni-present," said General Jones. "It is something, that frankly, the family of nations ought to be worried about."
Some 20,000 NATO forces from 37 countries are in Afghanistan. In July, they took over the southern part of the country, where there has been a resurgence of the Taleban and an expanded production of poppies. General Jones attributed these problems to the lack of a large permanent troop presence in the south in the past and lagging reconstruction there.
But the general said he is optimistic that Afghanistan can become a success story within a few years if certain problems are resolved.
"Training the police forces, jumpstarting the judicial reform and developing an effective counter-narcotics program are hand-in-hand three of the most important things that need to be done in Afghanistan in the near future," he said.
He warned that failure to address these problems means international forces will be in Afghanistan much longer than necessary.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, a Republican from Indiana, says NATO's mission in Afghanistan is an important test for the organization, but he believes it is capable of meeting that challenge.
"They [NATO commanders] know that success in Afghanistan depends on the attitudes of the people, the progress of reconstruction, and the development of the economy, as much as it depends on battlefield successes," said Richard Lugar. "But NATO commanders must have the resources to provide security, and they must have the flexibility to use troops to meet Afghanistan's most critical security needs."
Last week, the NATO chief called for an extra 2,000 troops, but said Thursday he is convinced that the long-term solution in Afghanistan is not a military one.
"It has been clear from the outset that progress in education, agriculture, economic development, public services and health has to go hand-in-hand with providing a stable, secure environment," continued General James Jones.
General Jones highlighted some reconstruction successes saying six million Afghan children are in school, more than 3,000 kilometers of roads have been rebuilt and 80 percent of the population has access to health care. The general said the more that is done on the reconstruction front, the sooner international forces will be able to leave Afghanistan.