[NOTE: This is a news brief of an October 4, 2006, meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations.]
WASHINGTON – NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. James Jones, says the alliance has sufficient manpower to fulfill its mission in Afghanistan but faces ultimate failure unless counternarcotics and reconstruction efforts improve.
“Anything we do militarily is perishable if it’s not accompanied by reconstruction,” Jones told a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. “I think 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.”
Jones called drug trafficking—the Afghan opium trade accounts for some 60 percent of the country’s GDP—the “Achilles heel” of Afghanistan. Money from the drug trade, he said, fuels the resurgent Taliban insurgency, worsens corruption, and undermines economic development.
NATO does not have a formal role in fighting the drug traffickers. Jones said the matter requires a strategy that involves elements of security, improving the choices for poor farmers as well as spurring infrastructure development.
“We’re losing ground and it bothers me,” Jones said. “It’s definitely what is most pressing and most on my mind with regard to future efforts in Afghanistan,” Jones said.
Jones praised the performance of the Afghan National Army but said police reforms were lagging. He also said Afghan President Hamid Karzai needs to move more quickly to enact judicial reforms, especially in such areas as pay for prosecutors.
The NATO commander was upbeat about the military’s role in the country, noting that the alliance’s expansion of command to all areas of Afghanistan, starting Thursday, affirms the commitment of thirty-seven nations to stabilize the country. The number of troops under NATO command in the country will increase to about 30,000.
There have been recent appeals by NATO for more troops but Jones stressed the troop levels were adequate. About 140 international troops have been killed in fighting or accidents in Afghanistan this year. Jones said the 9,000 troops recently deployed to the volatile southern region have performed very well in tough combat conditions and would be having a positive impact on the region, normally a hotbed of Taliban activity.
But Jones did add that he remained concerned about the number of restrictions NATO members place on their forces, limiting their engagement in Afghanistan. One country, he said, had restricted its troops from directly fighting Taliban forces, for example.
Asked about the role of Pakistan’s intelligence service in abetting Taliban fighters, Jones said he didn’t know enough about the issue to comment but had been in contact with Pakistani leaders about controlling cross-border incursions.
In addition to his Afghan role, Jones has attracted recent attention for remarks attributed to him in Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, on U.S. policy in Iraq. In the book, Jones is quoted as warning his friend, Gen. Peter Pace, that his pending move to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was fraught with problems due to the “debacle” in Iraq and marginalization of the Joint Chiefs’ role.
At the briefing, Jones said he would not challenge Woodward’s characterization of his remarks but said his overall stress was that reforms were needed on the role of the Joint Chiefs and a variety of other areas. For example, he said members of the Joint Chiefs were prohibited from participating in the military acquisition process and yet were held accountable for acquisition problems.
“I just think there is a whole litany of things that need to be cleaned up in order to clarify functions, roles, missions, and responsibilities,” Jones said.