- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States and Britain, the nations with the most troops fighting in Afghanistan, made a renewed push yesterday to portray the war as winnable and worthy of international support despite a so-far-unsuccessful struggle to get more allies to commit frontline forces.

On a visit here with her British counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasized the improvements that Afghanistan has seen since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the radical Taliban regime. And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, at a meeting of NATO allies in Lithuania, said that despite fissures in the alliance over sharing burdens in Afghanistan, “I don’t think there is a crisis.”

The dual diplomatic efforts by two of President Bush’s top advisers demonstrated the importance of Afghanistan’s future in the struggle against Islamic extremism as well as the depth of the administration’s concern that the mission of stabilizing this country is in danger of stalling or even deteriorating.

A chief worry is the reluctance of some key NATO allies to provide more military resources, including combat troops, at a time when the Taliban has stiffened its resistance, particularly in southern Afghanistan. Some Europeans argue that the United States puts too much emphasis on the military aspects of helping Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the strongest U.S. partner has been Britain.

On an unannounced visit, Miss Rice and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband pointed to progress despite multiple setbacks more than six years after the Taliban regime was overrun and was thought to be all but defeated.

“If you look at the Afghanistan of 2001 and the Afghanistan of now, there is a remarkable difference for the better,” Miss Rice said. She also said that it would be unfair to say the efforts by NATO and the Afghan government aren’t working.

“Can we all expect the security situation will still be difficult? Yes, because Afghanistan has determined enemies who laid waste to this country over a period of a decade,” Miss Rice said, adding, “The strategy is one that I believe is having a good effect.”

In a show of unity, Miss Rice and Mr. Miliband made the trip to Kabul and Kandahar — a former Taliban stronghold — so they could get a firsthand look at the area where the future of NATO’s combat role is in greatest doubt.

In Vilnius, Lithuania, where Mr. Gates and his NATO counterparts gathered for two days of talks focusing largely on Afghanistan, the public message was strikingly similar to statements by Miss Rice and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“It is simply not true,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Vilnius, that the Afghanistan mission is in danger of failing. He called on the international community to exercise “patience, with a capital P.”

And the NATO chief said he is working on a “comprehensive political-military strategy” for consideration by Mr. Bush and other NATO heads of government at a summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, in April. He put forth the idea of creating “benchmarks” for measuring progress in Afghanistan.

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