NATO progress in Afghanistan significant, general says

By Sgt. Brandon Aird http://www.cjtf82.afghan.swa.army.mil/, MNFI


WASHINGTON (March 19, 2008) – Despite the task NATO faced when it arrived in Afghanistan in 2003, the alliance has made significant progress in the country, the deputy chairman of the alliance’s military committee said.

 “NATO’s done a remarkable job … in expanding their operations, from what began just in the Kabul area, throughout the entire country by late 2006,” U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry told the Pentagon Channel. “Today, NATO does have the responsibility for the maintenance of security throughout the entire country of Afghanistan.”

NATO came into Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate to establish an International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF. That force had the responsibility of providing security in the greater capital area of Kabul.

By October 2006, NATO had expanded its operations throughout the country and was tackling three main tasks, which it continues today. Those tasks include helping the Afghan government extend control throughout the country and developing the necessary security institutions to maintain that control.

“The third major task is helping to create the conditions throughout the country for sustainable reconstruction and development to be conducted,” said Eikenberry, who commanded coalition forces in Afghanistan until NATO assumed responsibility in October 2006.

About 47,000 NATO servicemembers, including about 19,000 Americans, serve in the country under the NATO flag. Most of an additional contingent of 3,200 U.S. Marines deploying to Afghanistan will serve in combat roles in the eastern or southern areas of the country.

“Others in the Marine forces will be employed in smaller units that will be partnered with the Afghan National Police,” Eikenberry said. They will provide training, logistics and combat support, operating in the more difficult districts of Afghanistan that are more threatened by Taliban, he added.

Steady engagement and lessons learned have led not only to progress in Afghanistan, but also to growth in alliance members’ capabilities.

“I look at our non-U.S. NATO partners, (and) I’m seeing the same trends inside of Afghanistan of steady improvement in terms of their doctrine, their capabilities (and) the equipment they’re bringing to bear,” Eikenberry said. “I also see that the alliance, in terms of multinational practices or alliance practices, are steadily improving.”

That’s a fact the general has noticed in the relaxing of some of the operational restrictions, or “caveats,” that some alliance members place on their forces. Those restrictions have in the past and could continue to reduce NATO’s overall operational effectiveness, he said.

“But all told, again, I would emphasize that NATO has made significant progress even in terms of, over time, reducing these kinds of restrictions that are placed on forces,” he added. “A bit more progress needs to be made.”

While the alliance’s mission moves forward in Afghanistan, it’s status quo in the newly independent republic of Kosovo, the general said.

The former Serbian province’s declaration of independence has changed the environment on the ground, Eikenberry said.

“But still today, the Kosovo force under NATO command operates under the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, still maintains the mandate of maintaining a safe and secure environment, and it does so in an impartial manner,” he said.

The United States provides about 10 percent of the 16,000-member NATO force in Kosovo.