NATO General: Rebuilding Must Speed Up or 70% of Afghans Will Align With Taliban

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The New York Sun

KABUL, Afghanistan — NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan warned yesterday that a majority of Afghans would likely switch their allegiance to resurgent Taliban militants if their lives show no visible improvements in the next six months.

A British officer who commands NATO’s 32,000 troops here, General David Richards, told the Associated Press that he would like to have about 2,500 additional troops to form a reserve battalion to help speed up reconstruction and development efforts.

He said the South of the country, where NATO troops have fought their most intense battles this year, has been “broadly stabilized,” which gives the alliance an opportunity to launch projects there. If it doesn’t, he claims about 70% of Afghans could switch their allegiance from NATO to the Taliban.


“They will say,‘We do not want the Taliban, but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life that that might involve than another five years of fighting,'” General Richards said in an interview.

“We have created an opportunity, “following the intense fighting that left over 500 militants dead in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, he said. “If we do not take advantage of this, then you can pour an additional 10,000 troops next year, and we would not succeed because we would have lost by then the consent of the people.”

NATO extended its security mission last week to all of Afghanistan, taking command of 12,000 American troops in the war-battered country’s east. The mission is the biggest ground combat operation in NATO history and gives General Richards command of the largest number of American troops under a foreign leader since World War II.


Some 8,000 American troops will continue to function outside NATO, tracking suspect Al Qaeda operatives, helping train Afghan security forces, and doing reconstruction work. Afghanistan is going through its worst bout of violence since the American-led invasion removed the former Taliban regime from power five years ago. The Taliban has made a comeback in the south and east of the country and is seriously threatening Western attempts to stabilize the country after nearly thirty years of war.

Taliban militants have acknowledged adopting the suicide attacks commonly used by insurgents in Iraq, launching 78 suicide bombings across Afghanistan this year, which have killed close to 200 people, NATO said yesterday.

There were only two suicide attacks in 2003 and six in 2004, according to Seth Jones, an analyst for the American-based RAND Corp. He said there were 21 in 2005. General Richards, who will lead the NATO forces in Afghanistan until American General Dan McNeil takes over in February, said the Taliban might lose Afghan support if its attacks continue.


“The very cowardly use of suicide bombers, the tragic use of suicide bombers, reveals weakness on the part of the Taliban, not strength,” he said.

General Richards said NATO troops have also seen an upsurge in violence along the eastern border with Pakistan since that country’s government signed a deal with pro-Taliban militants last month to end fighting that broke out after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001.

The New York Sun

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