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Metro exclusive: NATO chief says Afghan project 'long-term'

If NATO decided to add charm offensives to its arsenal of military ones, its Secretary-General would be its best weapon

If NATO decided to add charm offensives to its arsenal of military ones, its Secretary-General would be its best weapon. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish Prime Minister, combines political savvy with a personable demeanor rarely seen among high-ranking politicians.


Rasmussen, a former leader of Denmark’s center-right Venstre party who has lead NATO since last August, received Metro at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.

What are the objectives of NATO’s new offensive in Kandahar?
A key element in our new Afghanistan strategy is to enhance the coordination between our military efforts and civilian reconstruction and development. You see this new strategy at work in Helmand province, where we have liberated the area and provided governance, development assistance and an alternatively livelihood for people. This kind of operation will be repeated in other parts of Afghanistan. Kandahar is one of these areas because it’s a well-known Taliban stronghold.

President Karzai has recently said that he wants to veto the offensive or even join the Taliban. Do you ever worry that NATO has the wrong ally in Afghanistan?
President Karzai is elected by the Afghan people. Afghanistan is a democracy, and we have to respect that in a democracy there’s freedom of speech. President Karzai, too, has the right to voice his opinions, and sometimes his opinions won’t be in accordance with those of the international coalition. The most important thing is that President Karzai delivers on his promises. He has pledged to fight corruption, and we expect him to live up to these commitments.

Why have NATO’s well-trained, well-equipped soldiers not been able to defeat poorly equipped Taliban fighters?
There’s no solely military solution to the problems in Afghanistan. If we want to achieve long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan, our military efforts must go hand in hand with civilian development. Success in Afghanistan would be to make the Afghan government capable of running the country. There’s no reason to hide it; this is a long-term project. We’ll stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to achieve this goal. The more we invest in this transition through training and educating the security forces and providing development assistance to the civilian population, the sooner they can take over.

Even so, many people in NATO countries want NATO to pull out of Afghanistan. How can you convince them that the mission is necessary?
It’s a fact that many people in troop-contributing countries are skeptical about our mission in Afghanistan. I understand their concern. They’re impatient and want to see progress, and so do I. But we are in Afghanistan first and foremost for our own security, to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. The terrorists who attacked the United States on 9/11 were had been trained in Afghanistan, and the terrorists behind the London and Madrid attacks were inspired by these extremists. So if we left Afghanistan, we would risk terrorism spreading to Central Asia, and even farther. Even more importantly, we would risk destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear power. That would be very, very dangerous. We are in Afghanistan to protect our own populations against terrorism.

 
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