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Afghanistan: NATO Commander Discusses Challenges
Date: Monday, March 19 2007
Topic:


Afghanistan: NATO Commander Discusses Challenges

March 16, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Less than two weeks ago, NATO and Afghan forces launched a massive offensive to stabilize Helmand Province. The man who is four months into the job of overseeing the NATO mission in Afghanistan, General John Craddock, the supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher and RFE/RL analyst Amin Tarzi in Washington.


RFE/RL: Reports from Afghanistan are that as civilian deaths and injuries mount, popular support for the Taliban is increasing, because local populations are turning to the Taliban for protection. The Taliban is now firmly in control of three districts in Helmand Province. How is NATO attempting to counter this?

John Craddock: I think the first thing that ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] is doing is telling the truth, and that may be a rare commodity. The fact is you will see reports of operations that ISAF has conducted that have resulted in the loss of noncombatant life, many of those are patently false, they are not true.

On occasion, indeed, there are bad things that happen because it's a war zone in parts of the country. And obviously ISAF does everything possibly to minimize that. There are rigorous rules of engagement, there are rigorous procedures we follow. But I will tell you ISAF does not participate in suicide bombers, they do not participate in these improvised explosive devices, and if one looks closely, there are more Afghan citizens wounded and killed from those types of attacks than from any inopportune ISAF engagements.

RFE/RL: Some members of the U.S. Congress have suggested that the United States has the right to pursue insurgents and suspected terrorists across the Pakistani border -- what is your opinion of that position? And secondly, what is NATO doing to cooperate with Pakistani law enforcement and troops in the tribal areas where the Taliban seems to be finding refuge and gaining strength?

Craddock: Well, let me address the first question; that's a U.S. issue and I'm a NATO commander. What the United States decides to do with regard to border operations will be either unilaterally or bilaterally with Pakistan. Now, from a NATO perspective, we have a military tripartite committee which consists of the commander of ISAF, high-level Afghan military leadership, and Pakistani [leadership]. They meet routinely, they have subgroups -- one of these is a border subgroup; there is an exchange of liaison officers -- both ISAF to Pakistan, and there are five Pakistani officers working with ISAF. We have very good [military to military and] ISAF to Pakistani relations. We want to continue to grow that, and it has been helpful to date.

RFE/RL: What is NATO doing to support Afghanistan’s fight against poppy cultivation and the trade in opium? You were quoted in "The New York Times" recently as having told your officers to "optimize those right(s) to the limit of the authority we have" and "push it to the edge because it’s important" -- how is NATO helping local authorities in their effort to stop the drug trade?

Craddock: In the [authority] we have provided to ISAF and the operations plan they have in place, they have available to them the authority to assist the Afghan authorities in some counternarcotics, counterdrug activities. We can provide logistics support, we can provide intelligence support, we can provide -- in the conduct of our operations -- support for trafficking, the interdiction of traffickers. So we have some authority there, and I've reinforced those with COM-ISAF (commander of ISAF). My guidance is that we use those authorities to the maximum extent possible, because we realize that there is a direct linkage between the drug traffickers and the Taliban and the insurgents. It finances much of that insurgent activity and we've got to break that linkage.

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