On the eve of the transfer of security responsibility throughout Afghanistan to NATO, the organization's military commander called Wednesday for more action on non-military aspects of the international effort in the country. General James Jones said NATO and the U.S.-led coalition will not be defeated in Afghanistan, and that therefore the more important battles are being fought on other fronts.
General Jones says NATO forces in southern Afghanistan won major victories over Taleban insurgents this summer, killing as many as 1,500 of them. He says now, reconstruction teams need to move in to demonstrate to the local population that the Afghan government and NATO can provide a better life than the Taleban can.
"There is a requirement to do more, and to bring more focus, more clarity, more purpose and more results in a shorter period of time. And fundamentally, this is the exit strategy for Afghanistan," he said.
In addition to a more effective reconstruction program, General Jones says Afghanistan needs to improve the quality of its new police force, and end corruption in the police and among other government officials, especially in the justice system.
"Corruption is a big problem in Afghanistan. On that score, the results in the last three years have been, in my view, singularly unimpressive. The Karzai government and those countries that are helping in this reconstruction aspect of Afghanistan need to show quicker and better success in as short a period of time as possible," he said.
General Jones says better training and higher salaries would be a good start in the fight against corruption. He also called for a more effective program to end the Afghan economy's reliance on poppy growing and the illegal drug industry, which he says has a huge impact on Afghan society. He says the drug cartels have their own armies and contribute to the country's security problems.
General Jones says NATO and other countries involved in Afghanistan, along with the Afghan government, also have to do a better job of communicating their plans to the Afghan people.
"Is everything going great? No. But is there going to be a military defeat? No. So, the battle is over hearts and minds and whether you can, with 37 countries working together, can bring the changes that are required to jump-start that society. And with 37 countries under all the mandates that you want, all the legal authorities, the U.N. resolutions, you can do this. Eventually it'll be a success. It just depends how much time we want to spend doing it," he said.
According to the U.S. Defense Department, 12,000 of the 20,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan will come under NATO command on Thursday as it takes responsibility for the eastern part of the country. That is the largest number of U.S. troops ever put under NATO control. The other 8,000 U.S. troops will remain part of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. A spokesman says about half of those troops will continue to train the new Afghan National Army, and some of the rest will continue to conduct counter-terrorism operations, including the hunt for terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden.
The NATO troops in Afghanistan, which will number about 32,000 with the additional U.S. forces, are commanded by a British general, but he is to be replaced in January by an American.