30 May 2006 - AFGHANISTAN DOMINATES FINAL DAY OF NATO-PA SPRING SESSION [PRESS COMMUNIQUE]
NATO's involvement in Afghanistan dominated the final session of the five-day NATO-Parliamentary Assembly (NATO-PA) meeting in Paris with several key-note speakers stressing the success of the Alliance's first out of theatre mission was vital to its long-term future.
French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie labelled the NATO presence in Afghanistan the "symbol of the campaign against international terrorism".
"We have had real successes there … (but) the work is far from complete, because the terrorist threat is still substantial and because the Afghan authorities still need our help before they can assume full sovereignty," she told NATO parliamentarians.
Ms Alliot-Marie was speaking a day after the worst anti-American riots in Kabul since the fall of the Taleban in late-2001. At least eight Afghans were killed and 100 wounded in violence sparked by a fatal road accident involving a US army truck.
The French minister however cautioned that the foreign military presence in the country needed to be limited in time and go hand in hand with efforts by the international community to address the country's huge economic and social consequences.
"We should not lose sight of the fact that in order to be tolerated, the foreign military presence should be limited in time, and that our contribution in the area of security will be lasting only if we respond - under the aegis of the UN - to the Afghan people's economic and social expectations," she declared.
She maintained Afghanistan would only be stabilized "when we have dealt seriously with the drug problem which, let us not forget, is linked to the funding of terrorism."
NATO last month backed a plan to increase foreign troop numbers in Afghanistan to around 32,500 by August. The change means NATO will gradually take over operations currently under US command in the south of the country, traditionally an area of Taleban strength.
NATO's top general in Europe, General James Jones, earlier told the NATO-PA's final plenary session that he believed the force in the country was large enough to handle all the challenges it faces. These range from a resurgent Taleban, blamed for more than 300 deaths in a spate of attacks over the last few weeks, to well-armed drug cartels.
"From my standpoint, the mission as it is currently sourced is adequate," he said, but added that military force alone would not solve the country's problems. "I would suggest very clearly that the outcome of Afghanistan will not be determined by military capabilities alone. We need to do more in Afghanistan to restore the system of justice, to reform the police," he said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told the same meeting that Afghanistan was the Alliance's "number one priority".
"It is absolutely vital, both for the people of Afghanistan and for NATO, that we are successful," he declared. He said the Alliance was being tested and needed to show "robustness and determination" in its response.