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American Forces Press Service

U.S. to Draft Integrated Plan for Afghan Help

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Dec. 14, 2007 – The United States will prepare an integrated plan to examine alliance goals in Afghanistan and set out a roadmap for allies to follow, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates spoke following a meeting with defense leaders from countries that provide troops to NATO’s Regional Command South in Afghanistan. British Defense Minister Des Browne hosted the meeting at Craigiehall here.

The nations involved in the meeting were: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Romania, the United Kingdom and the United States. “There was a focus on taking specific actions and timelines,” Gates said in an interview with reporters traveling with him. “We recognize that we are only part of the alliance, so all that we are doing we will feed in to Brussels to the larger full meetings of defense and foreign ministers after the New Year.”

The United States will prepare an integrated plan for the NATO mission in Afghanistan looking ahead three to five years. “We want to start by acknowledging all of the successes that we have had and how much has changed for the better in Afghanistan,” Gates said.

This includes progress in education, health care, governance, and training the Afghan army and police on.

Officials now are working to determine how the alliance should build on these successes, he said. “The integrated plan will address where we want to be in Afghanistan in three to five years and the different aspects of how we get there,” Gates said.

The plan also will integrate “the aspects of reconstruction and development strategies with security and counternarcotics,” he added.

The secretary said the defense ministers will meet again in the new year to discuss the U.S. proposal. “The ultimate hope being that this is embraced by the alliance as a whole and then endorsed by the heads of government when they meet in Bucharest,” he said, referring to a NATO meeting in Romania scheduled for April 2-4.

The defense ministers also discussed a proposal focused on a similar proposal for Regional Command South. Led by the British, the proposal will set goals for the regional command and benchmarks in progress toward those goals, the secretary said. The alliance in RC South faces some of the most complicated security and civil problems in Afghanistan, Gates said.

In addition to the defense ministers meeting, representatives of the countries’ foreign ministries also met. Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for policy, attended for the United States and briefed reporters following his meetings. “There was tremendous admiration for what the military is doing,” Burns said.

The countries agreed that more needs to be done on the civilian side to complement progress made by the military. This effort is “now to be elevated and expanded and made as strategically purposeful as what we see on the military side,” Burns said.

Countering the Taliban also means countering opium trafficking in the country. It means ending corruption and being more effective in humanitarian and economic relief. “We need to elevate that internationally, and there was a good bit of discussion about how we could do that,” Burns said.

Gates said other discussions during the meeting were productive, as well. Countries with troops in RC South want to keep encouraging other allies to make a bigger contribution. “One of the things that we talked to today that will maybe help us move in a more productive direction is to think creatively about how we can create opportunities for those allies to do things in Afghanistan that comport with their political realities at home and at the same time provide relief for some of the things that we are doing,” he said.

This could be providing more provincial reconstruction teams in secure areas, guarding facilities or paying for helicopters to be modified so they can operate in Afghanistan. The United States has had to provide a bridging force of helicopters that can operate at the high altitudes in southern Afghanistan.

This is one action where the RC South nations are going to ask NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to take the lead. “I think all of the allies are in Afghanistan in one way or the other, and so what we’re looking at is how do we get some others to do more,” Gates said. “And instead of pushing against political realities, see if we can find a way around them in a way that would allow them to play a more significant role.”

Gates said he believes more needs to be done to share information, strategy and effective practices across Afghanistan. “My concern from the time I took this job is there isn’t enough collaboration and sharing among all of the participants, not just NATO,” Gates said. “It’s important to remember that there are 42 countries in Afghanistan working to help the Afghan government.

“My concern was that there was no sharing of best practices, no sharing of what was working and not working,” he continued. “I was worried about seams between both the regional commands and the provinces and how you bridge all of that and get people working on things.”

Afghanistan needs an individual who can oversee civilian assistance to the country, who is above NATO, and can focus on coordinating civilian agency assistance, Gates said.

“There was general agreement (at the meeting) that the Taliban cannot win militarily,” the secretary said.

The Taliban hold no population centers anywhere in the country. “The key is, how do we come in behind that with the kind of police support and reconstruction support that -- once we’ve driven (the Taliban) out -- keeps them out,” he said.

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