The fighting in Afghanistan has not stopped. The country is not free from terrorists. Islamist fanatics remain determined to do harm. The war goes on. These are some of the conclusions the German and Netherlands governments have drawn from the fierce fighting in the Spin Boldak region in southern Afghanistan just several days ago. It involved American, European and Afghan forces pitched against the largest group of terrorists to fire on coalition soldiers since Operation Anaconda 10 months ago.
Our resolve in the fight against terrorism remains as unwavering today as in the days following September 11. At a critical juncture for the future of that war, Germany and the Netherlands take over as lead nations in Afghanistan. Today, German Gen. Norbert van Heyst assumes the command of the U.N. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), comprised of allied troops from a large number of countries, including Britain, France and Turkey. Nearly 3,000 soldiers from Germany and the Netherlands will participate in this multilateral force in a highly volatile environment. Just as the United States and other countries, we are willing to put our sons and daughters in harm’s way, because we are convinced that we have no choice but to win the war on terror and that that war is far from over.
To prevail, a broad strategy that extends beyond military action is required. The war on terror goes beyond hunting down individual terrorists. It is also a fight against the causes of terrorism. We must help create an economy that generates prosperity. That means strengthening Afghanistan’s economy to the point that it can provide a livelihood for all of its citizens.
We are committed to building a future for young Afghans. This is not a pipedream in the 1960s and ‘70s, Afghanistan experienced remarkable development and was one of the most popular travel destinations in Asia. Today, the Netherlands provides substantial aid for the ongoing reconstruction effort through U.N. channels. Furthermore, the Netherlands was one of the first donors to make money available to pay for salaries of the newly created administration, enabling the Afghan Interim Administration to get started and not lose valuable time.
European and American efforts to educate the young are off to a promising start. Europeans were the first to specifically focus on the education of girls, with others following suit. In the last two winters alone, Germany financed classes for approximately 30,000 girls. The reopening of the Amani school, originally founded in 1924 using a German-style secondary school curriculum, marked the return of high-caliber schooling to Kabul.
By winning the hearts and minds of the young, we strive to silence the prophets of hatred trying to inculcate the terrorists of today and tomorrow. Drowning out their message of terror and replacing it with one of tolerance and mutual respect is essential to our efforts in the fight against the causes of terrorism.
Still, the most basic precondition for stability is security, and in Afghanistan, as in other places, security is a multiyear, multilayered effort. We need courage to take up these challenges, and we need endurance to see them through. That requires a serious long-term commitment on behalf of the international community to protect the development of the nascent Afghan political and economic infrastructure. Thus far, this commitment has been taken on by NATO countries with Germany and the Netherlands following in the footsteps of Britain and Turkey.
Some observers have asked whether NATO ought to be the institution for missions like ISAF in the future. NATO clearly has the capabilities to assume this kind of responsibility and the Alliance should give some serious thought to eventually taking over the ISAF operation.
Stability and security, tolerance and equality, economic growth and a functioning democracy are important goals in and of themselves. Taken together, they provide a future that ensures prosperity for the poor, liberty for the oppressed, human dignity and freedom from terror for all.
The war on terror is not limited to Afghanistan. A number countries around the world have served as breeding grounds for fanaticism, hatred and violence. But despite the progress that has been made, even in Afghanistan, the war on terror is far from over. It has merely begun. Just ask the soldiers fired on near Spin Boldak.
Wolfgang Ischinger and Boudewijn J. van Eenennaam are, respectively, the German and Dutch ambassadors to the United States.