NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Saturday he thinks the back of the insurgency in Afghanistan will be “broken” and that the country will be on the road to a long-term peace by 2009.
There have been warnings by commanders of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan that Taliban guerrillas may mount a spring offensive from their winter-safe havens in neighboring Pakistan.
But De Hoop Scheffer said the tide of the fight will turn.
“In 2009 I think we should see Afghanistan on the road to long-term peace and stability with the back of the resistance broken,” he told a gathering the world’s top security officials.
Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan is of key importance to the fight, he said.
“Pakistan is vital to our success in Afghanistan,” De Hoop Scheffer said. “A military dialogue with Pakistan should now be teamed up with a political dialogue.”
'Testing our determination'
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, noted that fighting in 2006 was bloodier than ever.
“If NATO does not prevail in Afghanistan, it is difficult to imagine the alliance undertaking another ’hard security’ operation ... Its credibility would suffer a grievous blow,” McCain said at the conference.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged NATO and the European Union to work together in Afghanistan, saying this was “crucial for success” of efforts to defeat Taliban guerrillas and bring stability to the nation.
“In Afghanistan our alliance is being particularly tested,” Merkel said. “It is indisputable that the Taliban are testing our determination.”
The NATO-led force has about 35,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, and commanders have expressed confidence they are able to defeat any Taliban military effort in the coming months. But they have complained that, in the past, battlefield successes were not followed up by reconstruction aid to help rebuild regions devastated by the fighting.
Earlier this month, the EU Commission proposed a new $780 million package for Afghanistan to focus on health, justice and rural development over the next four years.
Merkel said that military stabilizing measures have to be coordinated with civilian measures. But she acknowledged the mission “is more difficult than we originally thought” when NATO forces were first deployed to Afghanistan three years ago.