To what extent has the challenge of commanding ISAF
lived up to your expectations and how great is the task
of rebuilding peace and stability in Afghanistan?
There are significant challenges
involved in all "nation-building" operations. Afghanistan's
war-torn history, the nature of the country and its
rich cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, its harsh
economic environment and an almost total absence of
modern communication networks are all complicating factors.
From the perspective of those who support the Bonn Agreements
of December 2001, these challenges are significant.
There are many people, however, who oppose the Bonn
process. They resist UN-sponsored change because it
threatens their own grip on power. They are ready to
take up arms against democracy because the lack of central
authority leaves them with the freedom to grow rich
through criminal activity, to act as local power brokers
or to promote religious fundamentalism. It is also clear
that these forces are prepared to use violence and terror
to impede the growth of a democratic central government.
Afghanistan is probably the most heavily mined country
in the world. Reconstruction cannot take off until the
de-mining programme has made substantial progress. Ongoing
combat operations in the south and east of the country,
where Taliban and al-Qaida forces have increased
their activity in recent months, threaten Coalition
forces both directly and indirectly and undermine reconstruction
efforts. In addition, there are some 100,000 members
of various Afghan militia, many of whom are still armed.
Predicting the intentions and political moves of the
warlords who control these men and an array of heavy
weapons is extremely difficult. However, progress is
being made. One example is the movement of heavy weapons
from the Panjshir Valley to the Pol-E-Charkhi
Afghan National Army Compound in Kabul, an agreement
that was brokered by the Afghan defence minister. This
deal is one of three initiatives - the Disarmament,
Demobilisation and Reintegration process, the cantonment
of heavy weapons from the Panjshir Valley and the cantonment
of heavy weapons in Kabul - that give cause for optimism.
How has the fact that NATO has
taken responsibility for ISAF changed the nature of
the mission? And what relationship does ISAF have with
the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom?
ISAF's mission remains the same now
as it was when led by individual countries or groups
of countries: to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority
in providing a stable and secure environment in Kabul
and its surrounding areas. NATO has, however, brought
coherence and leadership to ISAF's mission. In the past,
the international community struggled to find new lead
nations every six months. Moreover, six-monthly rotations
of personnel and equipment undermined mission continuity
and made it difficult to develop an effective framework
within which to address the complexity of Afghanistan's
stabilisation. The Alliance now provides the necessary
continuity and is building structures to ensure that
ISAF is equipped to address Afghanistan's long-term
The character of Operation Enduring Freedom
is different from that of ISAF. Enduring Freedom
is best described as a combat-focused mission aiming
to counter resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida threats.
Nevertheless, the end state for both missions is the
same: to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan under
the auspices of an elected and democratic government.
This is "nation-building" in a very broad sense and
ISAF and Enduring Freedom have to work together
to achieve their objectives. The framework of cooperation
is defined under a formal Military Technical Agreement
and is applied on a day-to-day basis through the liaison
effort of embedded staff officers.
How much did Afghans know about NATO
before your arrival in August and what image do they
now have of the Alliance? Given high levels of illiteracy
and few indigenous media outlets, how are you seeking
to communicate with the local population?
Understanding of NATO among the population
at large is modest, but this state of affairs is changing
as NATO builds its profile in Afghanistan. What is encouraging
is that the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA) is very
aware of what NATO is and how the Alliance can help
it rebuild the country. The image of ISAF troops is
good in the eyes of the people of Kabul. They have been
received with affection and treated with courtesy and
respect by the overwhelming majority. Soldiers in the
Kabul Multi-National Brigade, who patrol the city and
maintain a powerful interdiction presence to counter
the terrorist threat, seek to integrate themselves as
much as possible in the local community.
Communication networks around the
country are embryonic and only 31 per cent of the population
is able to read and write. Although there are more than
250 newspapers in Afghanistan, circulation outside the
capital and major cities is modest. Radio is a popular
medium. Indeed, its potential was recently recognised
when the United States announced that it is to distribute
200,000 wind-up radios throughout the country. That
said, parts of Afghanistan are too remote to receive
signals. ISAF has its own radio station, which is popular
among Kabulis, more than a quarter of whom tune in.
Soldiers also seek to spread "key messages" among the
population through their own contact with Afghans with
whom they talk to gain a better understanding of the
issues that affect them. In addition, ISAF produces
poster campaigns and other initiatives to inform locals
about the arrival of new troops and other issues as
ISAF also conducts regular polls
to assess opinion in the local community. A recent survey
indicated that almost 70 per cent of those polled believe
that Kabul is more secure today than it was a year ago.
This compares with about 5 per cent who believe that
Kabul is less secure today. In addition, almost 70 per
cent believed that they enjoy greater security today
than they had when the Taliban were in power, though
10 per cent thought that life under the Taliban was
more secure. It is clear that Afghans are eager to see
ISAF expand its role beyond the capital so that those
who live in more remote areas can enjoy the same degree
of stability and security as the residents of Kabul.
Given such support, the risk that ISAF will be perceived
as an occupation force is minimal. Indeed, the planned
extension of the geographical scope of ISAF's operations
is perceived as a tool to provide an enhanced and more
visible sense of security to the population as well
as a signal of NATO's long-term commitment to the country's
How involved is ISAF in reconstruction?
ISAF is aware that many non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) voice concerns over the military's
close association with reconstruction and the delivery
of humanitarian aid, as they believe this may undermine
their own efforts. Clearly, reconstruction is not a
military task. As a result, the most significant contribution
that ISAF can make in this area is to provide a secure
environment in which NGOs and other organisations are
able to do their work in safety and without hindrance.
ISAF does, nevertheless, assist the reconstruction process
in some critical areas through our Civil Military Cooperation
(CIMIC) teams, whose current activities fall into three
categories: education, health, and water/sanitation.
How great a threat do al Qaida
and the Taliban still present both to ISAF and to the
future of Afghanistan?
The al-Qaida and Taliban
threat remains significant. Combat operations are being
conducted in the south and east of the country. A central
function of Operation Enduring Freedom is to
engage the enemy in these areas, attacking its cohesiveness
and applying direct and indirect pressure to its centres
of gravity. This provides the ATA, which does not yet
possess the means to counter the al-Qaida and
Taliban threat, with the breathing space it needs to
consolidate its authority. The enemy's strategic objective
is to disrupt Afghanistan's democratic transformation
and to undermine international cohesion. The motivation
of al-Qaida and Taliban forces is straightforward.
They derive their power and influence in today's Afghanistan
as a result of the lack of effective central state authority.
Put simply, their influence will diminish as central
government grows in confidence and authority. In this
way, these groups will do everything in their power
to disrupt that process and their tactics are likely
to become more desperate as their own position deteriorates.
In what ways does NATO's experience of
peace-support operations in the former Yugoslavia help
you and ISAF in your daily work?
The ISAF mission is best defined
as an assistance mission. As such, it is different from
the NATO-led peace-enforcement operations in the Balkans.
Nonetheless, ISAF does possess a robust mandate, which
provides it with significant political and military
clout in its daily interface with Afghan authorities.
Key ISAF members of staff have participated in earlier
NATO-led deployments, including IFOR, SFOR and KFOR,
and experience gained in these operations has been of
tremendous assistance in setting up an operational headquarters.
It has proved crucial to establishing effective command
and control systems and helped optimise the flow of
data and information. In this way, it was possible to
create a fully functional headquarters in an extremely
short period of time.
In addition to NATO forces, ISAF includes
contributions from Partner nations and even countries
from beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. How have you managed
to bring these forces together?
Currently, 17 NATO nations and 13
NATO Partners contribute troops to ISAF. New Zealand,
which is not a NATO Partner, is the 31st contributing
nation. While in theory it should be difficult to build
cohesion among the various contingents, in practice
the many nations work extremely well together. This
is because NATO has a long experience of bringing forces
from many countries together. Moreover, all soldiers
are professionals and many have already served in many
parts of the world. They are trained to do a particular
job and motivated by the challenge of the Afghan mission.
NATO nations are considering ways of
extending ISAF's mandate beyond Kabul to cover more
of Afghanistan via, for example, becoming more involved
in the work of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).
How might this be done in practice?
Clearly, ISAF's first priority was
to bring a degree of stability to Afghanistan's political
and administrative capital. This has now been achieved.
As the ATA gains authority and influence elsewhere in
the country, ISAF's role and presence need to reflect
these changes and to evolve so that the entire country
can benefit. UN Security Council Resolution 1510 recognises
this necessity and, from a legal perspective, paves
the way for it to happen. NATO, too, has agreed in principle
to the need for the mission to be expanded. In reality,
however, the manner in which this can be achieved is
complicated. PRTs provide one possible solution. Small
force components dispersed throughout the country in
strategic locations, backed up by rapidly deployable
Quick Reaction Forces and Close Air Support, would create
platforms to boost security throughout the country.
This is an effective way to extend influence and bring
stability to remote areas without committing many thousands
of troops on the ground. Ultimately, it represents a
valuable vehicle to nurture a process of good governance
in the provinces under the legitimate and accountable
ownership of the central government. Moreover, this
strategy minimises the risk of ISAF being perceived
as an occupying force. Nevertheless, NATO planners are
also examining alternative approaches and have yet to
determine the best course of action. A detailed plan
cannot be finalised until nations have decided on enhanced
contribution levels over and above the troops, resources
and capabilities that they are currently committing.
The development of the Afghan National Army as a capable force and, in parallel, the pursuit of the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) process are seen as critical to the success of the overall Bonn political agenda. How are these progressing and what role is ISAF playing in both?
Both the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the DDR programme are moving forward. To date, some 7,000 troops and officers have been trained and a significant number have been successfully involved in counter-insurgency operations along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. The role of the police is also critical to the success of the ANA. As more police are placed on the streets, ANA soldiers, who are currently performing policing tasks, can focus on soldiering, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the ANA. The pilot DDR programme in Kunduz and Gardez has already been completed. Additional ideas, centred on the establishment of PRTs, are currently on the drawing board. The DDR programme in Kabul began in early December and we are working closely with the ATA to ensure that it comes together in a timely manner. It is a slow process, but one that needs to take place if the country's various militia are to be disarmed and reintegrated into society. This is but the first step.