- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

NATO’s top military commander said yesterday the U.S. exit strategy from Afghanistan depends on the effectiveness of reconstruction and aid, more so than the number of troops.

“Afghanistan will not be resolved by military means,” said U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, who commands the Western alliance.

“We are always looking for more capability, more equipment, but generally speaking, the troop strength under the current threat envelope is adequate,” Gen. Jones said.

“The real challenge is how well the reconstruction mission and the international aid mission is focused,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations. “And fundamentally, this is the exit strategy for Afghanistan.”

The general’s statement came amid a growing recognition in Washington that defeating the Taliban is not just a question of putting more boots on the ground.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Tuesday stated that victory in Afghanistan would not happen until Afghan and international officials wooed more tribal leaders away from the Taliban and into the political process.

Gen. Jones said yesterday that winning the battle against Afghanistan’s flourishing opium trade was crucial to weaning the country away from insurgent forces and drug cartels, which were fomenting an environment of violence and corruption.

“It is truly the Achilles’ heel of Afghanistan,” said Gen. Jones, who is supreme allied commander in Europe and commander of the U.S. European command.

NATO yesterday confirmed it was to taking military command of the 14 volatile eastern provinces of Afghanistan, expanding its command of security operations throughout the country.

The change, effective today, will place 12,000 American troops under NATO, expanding the force to more than 30,000. Some 8,000 U.S. troops will continue to function outside NATO control, those tracking al Qaeda or involved in air operations.

The overall level of American forces will remain around 20,000.

Gen. Jones said more had to be done to systemize the NATO forces, particularly erasing restrictions put on the military by individual nations that are hampering operations against the Taliban and putting soldiers at risk.

“There are about 50 restrictions that have an operational impact, that impact on the commander of [NATO’s] ability to make operations,” said Gen. Jones.

He said the alliance was working to whittle down those restrictions, which include different rules of engagement, rules of detention, size of force and geographic boundaries. Forces from some countries cannot be used at night; others cannot directly engage the Taliban.

“The capability we have is directly related to the caveats,” he said. “It is not a showstopper, but it is certainly something we have to keep working on.”

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