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Update on NATO Operations in Afghanistan

General Jones, US EUCOM and NATO SACEUR
Foreign Press Center Roundtable
Washington, DC
October 24, 2006

11:00 A.M. EDT General Jones at FPC

MODERATOR:  Welcome to you all.  Thanks for coming.  As you know, I think some of you have probably met General Jones before.  But General Jones has been Supreme Allied Commander, EUCOM Commander for the last three years which includes, of course, NATO.

GEN JONES:  Almost four.  (Laughter.)

MODERATOR:  Almost four.

GEN JONES:  Be four in January.

MODERATOR:  He will be retiring and leaving the service at the end of December of this year and has been, as you know, quite involved in NATO's work in -- particularly in Afghanistan.  So he will open with a few remarks on that.  We're on the record.  And General Jones, thank you very much for --

GEN JONES:  Thank you very much and thank you all for being here.  Look forward to mostly answering your questions so I'll be brief in my opening remarks since you all are very familiar with the subject.

I think what's transpired that -- what is a significant interest since the last time we talked was -- is the fact that NATO has achieved its last stage in Afghanistan.  That is the expansion into what we call Stage Four which is the eastern region and now is responsible for the sum total of stability in security and part of the reconstruction of Afghanistan.  This has been a plan that has been in the making since February of 2004 when it was first briefed at the Munich Security Conference and has now gone full circle.  Some of you are very familiar with that plan and essentially the map on the left there describes, if you can imagine a counterclockwise rotation, you can see the dates of NATO's expansion starting in July of '04 in the north and then working to the west and southeast and then back up to the capital region.

So this has been a long time in coming.  It's been generally I think very well done.  We now have 24 Provincial Reconstruction Teams under NATO.  With the expansion in the eastern region, the U.S. transferred roughly 11,000 troops to NATO command and we have seen obviously some fighting in the -- particular in the southern region over the last few months that culminated with a successful execution of Operation Medusa which answered once and for all whether NATO would have the capacity to stand and fight if challenged.  And I think the Taliban or -- and other forces, criminal elements, narcotics traffickers and whoever else was involved, had a very strong answer to that particular question.

So I think that any lingering questions about NATO has been asked and answered.  We continue to work on our force generation capabilities.  We still have some shortages that we would like to get.  We continue to work with nations to get -- to have an insight into their future plans so that we know what they might be offering in the future.  But in the main, I think that we can be happy with how things have gone and I must say that I must applaud the courage of those forces in the alliance whose troops have been subjected to pretty standard -- almost conventional combat, particularly in the south, notably Canada and the UK and Romania and the Netherlands, Australia and the U.S. forces that -- and the ANA that came to the aid of -- came to the assistance in Operation Medusa and did quite well.

Very briefly, the task at hand now is to make sure that the people of Afghanistan understand that NATO's role is to create conditions whereby reconstruction and development can take place and to help do whatever we can to marshal an enable the international relief agencies, both nongovernmental and governmental, so that they can do their jobs and bring reconstruction to areas of Afghanistan that have had none.

In the south, in particular, where we had no permanent presence of troops to speak of, we now have about 9,000, and this period of turbulence was not unexpected.  The south is the center mass for the home of the Taliban.  It's center mass for narcotics production.  It's not been visited by too much reconstruction.  We've had problems with corruption and weak leadership, and all of that is in the process of changing. 

We find in Afghanistan that where you have a good governor, a good police chief, the presence of the Afghan National Army and reconstruction that generally the Taliban and the forces that are opposing of the expansion of the Karzai government generally cannot sustain themselves.  This is obviously what we want to do throughout the country.

The key message that I think needs to be delivered for Afghanistan is that Afghanistan's long-term solution is not only a military problem.  It's not just a military problem.  The focus has to be on the right amount of reconstruction at the right place at the right time.  Specifically I would think we'd have to do much better in the counternarcotics field, in the field of judicial reform and in the field of training local security, specifically the police in the regions.  And those three are linked together.  You can't do one and not do the other two because of the obvious relationship. 

I've cited publicly the narcotics problem as one of the most serious problems facing Afghanistan simply because of the impact that it has on providing money for the insurgency, building bombs, buying weapons, recruiting fighters, being able to pay them is -- has a long-term -- it's an immediate problem for Afghanistan and we need to solve it.  But it touches virtually ever aspect of Afghan life and it simply has to be addressed more effectively than it's been addressed.

So we hope that with NATO having completed its ambitious project for expansion, an emerging good relationship with Pakistan, particularly on the questions involving the border.  I think that we are in a position where NATO has asserted itself, has done what it said it was going to do.  And we are in a position where we can bring more focus and more capacity and more opportunities for focused reconstruction and development in those areas that absolutely have to be done.  And I include in those three or four things that I mentioned, corruption.  It's very important that the Karzai government be seen to be tough on corruption, tough on drugs and restore the integrity of its judicial system in such a way that people can understand that this is a government that is going to effectively address these concerns.  And I'm optimistic that the will is there.  I think with a little bit more focus, we can do some good things in a short period of time.  So that concludes my opening remarks.  I'd be happy to engage on any topics that you might like. 

Yes, sir. 

QUESTION:  My name is Umit Enginsoy with Turkish NTV and Turkish Daily News.  Two things, you said you are trying to generate more forces for Afghanistan.  What exactly would you like to see from Turkey?  More troops and troops for the south, helicopters, or what else?  And the second thing is on this -- a non-Afghanistan issue, regarding the future securities, such as for the Black Sea, also the EU commander would the United States like to see something more NATO-related security in the Black Sea, including the possible expansion of the active endeavor force in the Mediterranean to the Black Sea?

GEN JONES:  Thank you. With regard to the first question, the -- you're always -- we still are looking for mobility assets in Afghanistan.  Always looking for helicopters and ways to increase the maneuver of the force.  So I think this is something that is symptomatic of all of our missions.  We need more mobility.  We still have to generate a few more tactical capabilities involving ground troops and we also need some of the critical enablers in command and control, communications, better intelligence assets.  And -- but we're working on this.  And but -- I would say to not only to Turkey, but to all nations as we have publicly that it's not enough to simply provide forces if those forces have restrictions on them that limit them from being effective.  And we call these caveats, but whatever they are, they're national restrictions and they restrict the ability of the on-the-scene commander to have the maneuverability and the capabilities that he needs. 

Some examples of restrictions are territorial restrictions where a government puts a restriction on its forces that, for instance, in the case of Turkey a restriction to only operate in the Kabul region, you know, is a restriction.  But there are other countries who have it.  I'm not trying to single anybody out in particular.  But we are all in this together in my view and that if it's fair that a nation expects other people to come to their aid when and if they have a problem, then it's fair that other nations should expect the same thing in return.

We're working on this.  Four years ago in Kosovo, we had a similar mission that was replete with national restrictions, and over the years we found the solutions where Kosovo is now a mission that virtually has very few caveats and no national -- no territorial restrictions and NATO forces are operating as one.  We need to bring the same results to Afghanistan.

So mutual contributions, yes, but more -- a more liberal use of those troops and more empowerment as to what they can do would be very helpful. 

QUESTION:  For Turkey or all?

GEN JONES:  For everybody.  For everybody.  And we have about 102 national restrictions, 50 of which I judge to be operationally significant.  And so we're working with each nation.  We will have a meeting next week with the 26 chiefs of defense in Brussels and each chief of defense has been sent a letter with the restrictions that we would like to have removed from those forces. 

QUESTION:  Fifty operational restrictions?

GEN JONES:  There are 50 types of restrictions that have operational impact.  Some of them --

QUESTION:  Is that workable?

GEN JONES:  Of course.  We did it in Kosovo.  I can tell you in 2003 in Kosovo commanders spent more time trying to decide what they couldn't do with their forces rather than what they could do.  We're not quite that bad in Afghanistan, but we need to do a little bit better.  So this is not a full-stop thing, but --

QUESTION:  So you're making a --

GEN JONES:  But this is a -- I just want to say that this -- removing caveats is like providing more troops.  It's like a force multiplier.  So the more freedom you give, the better it is.  And the better it is for the troops, too.  I think that a thinking enemy, which we're facing, will seek out those nations who have expressed restrictions that they would be reluctant to fight or they would -- they will not be -- they can't be used for certain things, and they will gravitate towards -- I believe a thinking enemy will gravitate towards those nations.

So I think the sooner we get to a point where everyone is the same and everyone is alike and we're completely as one on the ground -- and I'm not naÔve enough to think that zero is the answer -- but I think we can make some progress that would have the effect of multiplying the capabilities of the force on the ground.  And that's what we're after. 

QUESTION:  On the Black Sea?

GEN JONES:  On the Black Sea, the Operation Active Endeavor has been a good model in the Mediterranean and we've been working both bilaterally and through NATO with Black Sea countries to try to see how we can increase the security of the Black Sea, and Turkey in particular has been very cooperative and very helpful in gradually moving this idea along that security of the Black Sea is everybody's business.  It doesn't mean that it has to be necessarily a NATO mission, but Turkey's leadership in the Black Sea is absolutely instrumental to helping the awareness and helping the security of the commerce that goes across the Black Sea and down into the Bosporus and into the Mediterranean. 

We think that maritime domain awareness is extremely important in this asymmetric world that we're facing, whether it's security of energy, transportation, watching for illegal drugs, illegal immigration, weapons shipments, weapons of mass destruction and the like.  And getting a better awareness of what's going on in the waterways of the world is very important, so we're very happy with and excited about the degree of cooperation that we have received from Turkey in this regard. 

QUESTION:  But you're not insistent on Operation Active Endeavor?

GEN JONES:  No, it could -- actually, it could take many forms.  It could be an Operation Active Endeavor-like operation.  All it takes is the willingness of the Black Sea countries to work together.  That's really what we're after.  But it doesn't have to be a NATO operation. 

QUESTION:  [By Shyam Bhatia, Deccan Herald, India.] Could I just ask about suicide bomb attacks in Kabul?  I haven't been there for three years, but my Afghan informants tell me there's an average of one suicide bomb attack in Kabul every day.  Is that true?  If not, is that -- if that's not true, what would your estimate be?  And the second (inaudible) question is that the Taliban are using young Uzbeki suicide bombers who are different from their counterparts in Iraq in the sense that they are indoctrinated from a very young age to carry out their mission.  So they go willingly into these suicide bomb attacks.  And I wondered if you could maybe comment or elaborate on the nature of these young suicide bombers and how many there are, et cetera.

GEN JONES:  I don't have the statistic with me, but I don't think it's one a day in Kabul.  As a matter of fact, I'm quite sure it's not.  But I will get that statistic for you.  The recent increase in suicide bombings in Afghanistan -- suicide attacks is a fairly recent phenomenon.  And we are still in the process of gathering the information -- as much information as we can as to who they are, where they come from, what their ideology is and the like.

But what is most worrisome to me is the fact that the -- those people who are spreading violence in Afghanistan -- and I want to again restate the fact that this is not just to the Taliban.  We're ascribing to the Taliban a regional character that they simply just donít have.  This is -- the Taliban, we know where the heartland of the Taliban is, if you will, but we also know where the narcotics cartels, where the criminal elements, where the tribal infighting is and all the perpetrators of violence.  The problem is that the increased economic capacity of the drug cartels is fueling some of the economic engine that sustains probably a large part of these violent actors, and that's why the narcotics problem is such a big problem.

I will -- we will know more about the suicide bombings.  I might say that in the past several weeks the authorities in Kabul have been able to anticipate quite a few of those attacks.  They've known what they were looking for and, in some cases, they've been able to deter them prematurely or cause the detonation to go off in front of the -- before it gets to the target.  So they've -- we've actually had some pretty good success.  It's a worrisome tactic.  It's definitely on the increase.  But in Kabul, they've actually had some successes in deterrence and prevention.

QUESTION:  [By Christian Wernicke, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany] Could it, to follow up on that, General, the -- to what extent are the suicide bombers my colleague mentioned in a way scholars of the war in Iraq?  And if I -- my main question would be, I remember summer 2004 you told us on the trip to Afghanistan you don't believe that the Taliban will be able "to reassert themselves ever again."  Why are -- why should we, not you personally -- why should we believe your optimism now is more well founded than it was two years ago?

GEN JONES:  That's a fair question.  And 2004 is 2004 and 2006 is 2006.  I think that there are a couple of things that have to -- absolutely have to happen in order to continue in the successful reconstruction of Afghanistan, and that is greater focus on certain areas.  The one thing that the international community has not done well is to have any degree of measurable success in my view on counternarcotics.  It's gotten worse. 

In 2004 when we were talking, the link between counternarcotics and insurgents was not clear.  It's clear now.  The money that's generated is increasing, and it's clear that they are fueling the -- not only the Taliban but other bad actors in Afghanistan.

We have not done as well as I think we would have liked to see in judicial reform, nor in training of police forces.  So as a result the battle against corruption, the battle against crime, the battle against economic reform continues, and it's got our attention.  The instruments -- the elements of success are in place.  The military -- overall nationwide the military force that we've generated in NATO in non-NATO countries, 37 countries, is probably adequate for what we need in the foreseeable future.   The best thing that could happen in Afghanistan right now is more focus in reconstruction and development.  And if that happens and we fight corruption, we have some successful trials and people go to  jail for doing some very bad things, then I think you can start -- then I think Afghanistan can start turning once again in a more positive direction or at least counter the perception that the Taliban is making a comeback.

I want to stress the Taliban is not a national power, it's not -- I don't consider it to be -- I consider it to be certainly at best regional and more localized along the border and in the south.  I think what happens in Pakistan is going to be very important to the outcome of the struggle in Afghanistan.  And I'm hoping that the words that have come out of Pakistan, which are very good, are also met by decisive action along the border because that will have a lot to do with containing the level of violence in Afghanistan.  So, more work between Afghanistan and Pakistan is essential.  NATO is now engaged in doing this with the Pakistani Government and the Pakistani authorities, and military authorities and I'm hopeful that we'll have more success there.

QUESTION:  Did they learn in Iraq?

GEN JONES:  Sorry?

QUESTION:  [By Christian Wernicke, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Germany]  The suicide bombers, do they come from Iraq?

GEN JONES:  Well, I think that there is some definitely some imitation here.  If they see something that's working or they think is working in another part of the world, they'll imitate it.  But I've not seen any evidence that they're coming from Iraq, I think they're just imitating the tactic.

QUESTION:  Following up on the Taliban -- Natalie Ahn with the Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese newspaper.  Do you still see the Taliban basically on the run in the southern region after Operation Medusa?  Do you see them regrouping at all in the west?  And do you give any credence to Mullah Omar's recent statement that he -- that they are going to increase violence and it's not going to be (inaudible)?

GEN JONES: Well, I think Medusa was a larger defeat for the Taliban than they're letting on because I think that they departed from their normal tactics and they were punished severely for that.  They took some pretty serious losses.  They will, probably as a result of Medusa, be very careful about a conventional or near conventional fight and will resort to their normal hit and run tactics.  It would seem natural to me that they would try to go to places where they think that they could not be observed and you won't have as big a concentration of troops.  But I think that's why we need to create within NATO kind of a spirit of being able to be maneuverable and being able to be flexible and not be so tied down to particular regions in the country as we normally do in NATO operations.   But I -- and as far as Mullah Omar's threat, I take it at face value.  We'll just have to wait and see. 

If we do the things that we can do and need to do very well, and I'm talking about not just military, then I think we can win the battle of the hearts and minds without great difficulty.

QUESTION:  My name is Damien McElroy.  I'm from the UKís Daily Telegraph.  What culpability would you put on nations that have said we will do specific tasks like, for example, countering narcotics, on that not getting up and running in the way that you want?

GEN JONES:  Well, --

QUESTION:  And secondly, has there been any progress made in setting up direct communication links between on the ground commanders across the border from, you know, a Major in Afghanistan talking to one in --

GEN JONES:  Pakistan?

QUESTION:  -- in Pakistan?

GEN JONES:  These pillars on that slide show lead nations in each one of the pillars, and these are nations that have agreed, as members of the G-8, to in fact take charge or take the lead for the orchestration of the reform.  It doesn't mean that those nations have to do it by themselves.  And I think that frankly in the case of the United Kingdom, they have the lead in counternarcotics reform, but it doesn't mean that it's a UK problem only.  And I have a sense that many nations have kind of devolved to that position, say, well this is the UK's problem and they're the ones that are supposed to do it.  This is a massive international problem, and I think the UK has the lead and they've agreed to coordinate it, but other nations have to step up and make the contributions that have to be made in order to bring this about. 

The same with judicial reform with Italy as the lead.  Italy shouldn't have to do this alone and, yet, you have the impression sometimes that everybody kind of says, well, this is an Italian problem.  So we all have to get in under the tent -- under the same tent with an overarching body, presumably the UN, coordinating this effort so that the right effort comes about at the right place at the right time and the right amount and we don't just keep trying to do everything all at once simultaneously and wind up missing the four or five things that absolutely have to be done.

The second part of your question had to do with relationships with -- outside the country.  NATO is a member of the Tripartite Commission which involves the Afghans, the Pakistanis and NATO.  And increasingly, you will see more and more cooperation across the border between the Pakistanis and the Afghani forces, and NATO will probably be, along with Operation Enduring Freedom, will be one of the bridges by which those links are increasingly developed.

QUESTION:  But there's no direct radio communications yet?

GEN JONES:  Well, I think -- we have direct communications from ISAF.  I don't know if we're there yet at the tactical level.

QUESTION:  Sir, I'm with the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.  My name is Andrei Sitov.  Sort of a provocative question, if you will.  Militarily, especially from the point of view of the nature of the opposition that you face in Afghanistan, how is it really different from what the Soviets used to face?  The Soviets had, I am told --

GEN JONES:  A lot of troops.  (Laughter.) 

QUESTION:  Yeah, more than 100,000 then were driven out.  So why are you confident that you have enough? 

GEN JONES:  My confidence is rooted in how the people of Afghanistan have expressed themselves in two national elections, one for president and one for parliament.  And I believe the concept of what is being attempted in Afghanistan is one that is embraced by the people, generally speaking. 

The problem is that while they have voted enthusiastically for the future, when they don't see those expectations being realized rapidly enough and they're conflicted by the presence of friendly forces during the day and violent forces at night and their children are at risk, they don't see jobs coming, they see the narcotics trade booming and they don't see bad people being prosecuted and being put in jail, then they lose enthusiasm, they lose hope.  And so this is, in a sense, very much a period that we're in now is a battle for the hope of the people.  And but I do think that they've made a clear choice that they do not want to continue fighting, they do want a better way of life.  And we have to communicate that, not only communicate it in a strategic sense, in a better way, but also visibly on the ground.  And that's why all NATO operations have to be linked to reconstruction, have to be linked to a better life and more opportunity for the people.  And if we can do that, I think that -- and I think we will do that, then I think that's a main difference. 

QUESTION:  So if I understand it correctly, there are no military lessons from that experience?

GEN JONES:  Well, I think there are a lot of military lessons that we can draw on.  As a matter of fact, some of our friends on the ground in ISAF right now have served in the Soviet army in Afghanistan, and I've had some wonderful discussions and we do take lessons from it.  But the big thing is to empower the people to start education and to restore the confidence that the Afghans can be in control of their own destiny.

QUESTION:  I'm sorry.  Also, how important, how effective, is your cooperation with the other countries in the region, Central Asians? 

GEN JONES:  I think it's -- I think the problem in Afghanistan is not one in isolation.  I think it's a regional problem and I believe that the region has to be concerned that Afghanistan comes out the right way and that there's no spillover into other areas. 

Yes, sir.

QUESTION:  [By Hasan Hazar, Turkiye Daily, Turkey. ] (Inaudible.)  General, what is the Afghan people's reaction of the NATO mission?  Could you talk a little bit more about that (inaudible) in the area, what kind of effect (inaudible)?

GEN JONES:  In the three years that I've been going to -- or the three and a half years that I've been going to Afghanistan and others have been going, it seems that where you have a good governor, a good police chief, some presence of the Afghan Army, reconstruction, that generally the Taliban is not able to compete or the opposition is not able to compete, and the people are happy.  I mean, they are generally happy with that.  Now, you can pick your parts of the country where there is less violence as opposed to more violence.  Where there's more violence, people are less happy because they're not secure and they don't have the same amount of reconstruction available to them that others do.  But generally speaking, I'm still convinced that the Afghan people want the freedoms that's being proposed and want to stop the fighting and get on with a better life. 

The NGO question is an interesting one and you get -- you'll get many different reports.  I've worked on several global operations with NGOs and there are some NGOs that just simply do not ever want to be associated with any kind of military force, and then there's quite a few others who see the value of working with the military so that we can focus our efforts and make sure that the aid gets to where it needs to get to. 

But you'll find all kinds of different positions there and we have an open door policy in Kabul at ISAF for NGOs.  We work with the NGO organizations to the extent that we can.  A lot -- most of them work with us but there are some that just simply have a different view and do not want to be in the area where there's any kind of military presence, and so we wish them well but we will always be available to give people information, to be of assistance if we can and to be of help if they are threatened.  They do excellent work and they're an important part of the reconstruction efforts. 

QUESTION:  I'm Tom Meeus [from NRC Handelsblad].  I'm a Dutch newspaper reporter.  Can you make a general assessment on why reconstruction, especially in the south, seems to be so slow?

GEN JONES:  Why it's so slow?

QUESTION:  Mm-hmm.

GEN JONES:  Well, it's a little bit -- it goes into the history of the southern region of the last several years.  When ISAF was expanding to the north and to the west, for example, Operation Enduring Freedom had responsibility for the south and the east.  There were never many, many troops there on a permanent basis, as there are now.  Most of the operations were special operations.  It was an area that frankly, simply because of the lack of amounts of troops, we didn't know much about.  And it was only when we went into the south with -- as we say, we have 9,000 troops in the southern region right now, I think -- that we found that this was really a hornets -- kind of a nest of hornets.  There was drug problems, Taliban problems, crime, corruption, and very little reconstruction. 

So I'd characterize these last several months as a -- several months of instability, Medusa being the pinnacle of the recent NATO presence, successful pinnacle, I might add, and now we're transforming in to show the people that we can in fact bring reconstruction and we can make their lives better and more secure.  That effort is still ongoing.  It needs to be successful and I'm quite sure that we'll work long and hard throughout the winter months to make sure that we get these people through and towards -- oriented towards a better life as springtime comes on next year. 

QUESTION:  My name is Daniel Anyz with [the] Czech daily paper [Hospodarske Noviny (Financial News)].  I wonder what's the time window for the reconstruction?  How much time do you have before you lose Afghan, because there was a quotation from -- of David Richards (inaudible) in New York Times magazine that if NATO didn't succeed in making substantial economic development some 70 percent of Afghans will shift their loyalty to Taliban.  So what time are you seeking? 

GEN JONES:   Well, I'd be very careful of timelines and percentages here.  I'm not sure that's knowable in a country like Afghanistan.  I think the more important thing is to ascertain that you have the right direction and emphasis.  And I've tried to explain during the course of this briefing what I think the right emphasis is.  And I deeply believe that getting more focus and more cohesion on the four or five things that I ticked off at the beginning and I'll repeat them just for emphasis.  I think the counternarcotics effort needs vitality and needs new life.  I think that judicial reform has to be accomplished where we pay salaries of prosecutors enough so that they're not subjected to corruption. 

I think that the police force has to be augmented and not only in quality but quantity and equipment so that the villages have some sense of security and that Provincial Reconstruction Teams continue to operate safely and that the government has to be seen as leading an all-out battle against corruption.  If you can get those four or five things sustainable and do the other things like build roads, restore electricity, water and everything, new schools, then I think you can have a fairly impressive turnaround.  But whether that takes six months, a year, a year and a half, it's purely a question of focus. 

The -- I think the capacity is there -- 37 sovereign countries are in Afghanistan.  Think of that -- 37 countries.  We can organize ourselves along the international line to bring more focus and more results.  And I'm confident that the military can create the conditions that will allow reconstruction.  But military alone without effective reconstruction means that in terms of time, we will be there for a much longer period of time.  

QUESTION:  [By Natalie Ahn, Asahi Shimbun, Japan.] Do you get any indications that people are hearing -- the right people are hearing such that the focus is going change? 

GEN JONES:   The right people are hearing.  (Laughter.)  And you know, I have to be optimistic, nobody's -- everybody's there trying to do the right thing.  I mean, there's nobody that's simply there for the sake of being there.  Every organization that's there is trying -- bringing them together and focusing them in the right way is I think where the challenge is now, but I'm optimistic that it can be done. 

QUESTION:  Marco Bardazzi of the Italian news agency ANSA.  And quoting again Gen. Richards a few days ago talking to (inaudible) reporters he said that five years ago we need a coalition on (inaudible) too early.  Do you share this judgment and also what's your assessment about the situation in the western region? 

GEN JONES:   I think that the -- well, in the western region, let me talk about the past first and then Gen. Richard's statement.  I think that five years ago we were certainly in a more -- the battle was to change the direction of the country.  That is to say remove the Taliban from power and do the best that we could to make sure that it didn't come back and that includes remnants of al-Qaida.  What I've seen over the past few years is quite a lot of progress in Afghanistan.  We tend to focus on the bad news there -- the IED that goes off, the attack that goes off.  The strategy of the opposition is to frankly (inaudible) the alliance by ones and twos and to cause the public's -- in our alliance to question the direction.  And so there's a lot of message even that has to go on here. 

One is obviously to the people of Afghanistan and the other is to the people of our own country -- our own countries and who need to be convinced that this is worth it, the sacrifice is worth it.  And so we have to show -- we the international community has to show that we are doing what we said we are going to do and doing it well.  We now have much more mass in terms of Afghanistan than we did five years ago when the tactics were different.  Now we are firmly engaged on reconstruction.  We are engaged on governance.  We are engaged on the main issues that are going to dictate whether Afghanistan recovers quickly or it's going to take longer.  And it's strictly the focus of how we do this -- how we do that piece on the right.

The military capabilities I'm quite confident that I can tell you today that militarily we'll not be defeated.  But if we don't, you know, if we suffer failure as a result of a thousand IEDs, which is really the opposing -- the opposition strategy, then the piece that gets us to the level of success is -- has to do with reconstruction and winning the -- nurturing the hope and winning the hearts and the minds of the -- or keeping the hearts and minds, because I think in their hearts and minds they want what NATO is offering and they want what the world is offering.  The question is can we get it there in a timely fashion so that it makes a difference before somebody decides on another course of action.

QUESTION:  [By Andrei Sitov, TASS, Russia.] Sir, on drugs, if I may --

MODERATOR:  Time for last one.

QUESTION:  -- you keep emphasizing the importance of the drug problem.  It is one of those that worry the international community most of all.

GEN JONES:  Right.

QUESTION:  And you also say that the tendencies are more important than the terrorist who are -- it's the right direction -- moving in the right direction.  You started this briefing by admitting that the situation with the drug flow is worsening rather than improving.  What realistically in your opinion can and should be done to reverse the trend?

GEN JONES:  Well, I think that we need to have more cohesion in the international effort.  I'm not -- as a NATO commander, I am not -- it's not part of my mandate to be proactive in terms of the battle on drugs.  That classically is not seen as a military task, and my authorization from nations is to be fairly passive from the standpoint of collecting intelligence, providing security and enabling but not to have NATO troops going up, for example, and participating in eradication.

Having said that, I think it's important that as a strategic commander that I talk about those things that are having military consequences in terms of the violence in Afghanistan.  And when we see clearly that the money from the narcotics industry is fueling an insurgency or causing more widespread crime and corruption or competing against the expansion of a sovereign government that was democratically elected, then it's legitimate, I think, that I say something about it.  And I say it in a constructive way, not a critical way, but just to point out I think what a lot of people have also figured out, that this is in fact one of the things that we have to do better. 

And I'm -- if we have the international will -- I know we have the capacity, so let's put this thing together and let's have the people who are qualified to deal in counternarcotics get together and let's get on with it.  But it's multi-faceted, and part of it is doing a better job in our own capitals in Europe where most of the product is sold to preclude it from even getting there through various countries of transit.  So it's not just about the source in Afghanistan, it's about the distribution system, the network -- and I know Russia's very concerned about it because I've talked to General Baluyevsky about it.  I've talked to most of my colleagues between Afghanistan and Europe about this problem to try to do -- it's a little bit the Black Sea problem.  It's all of us in this.  And if we can make a change and make a difference, we can help Afghanistan and we can help ourselves as well.

MODERATOR:  I'm afraid that's all the time we have.  Thank you all for coming.

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