Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 6 News List

NATO upbeat about the situation in Afghanistan

SECURITY General James Jones said the alliance's reconstruction teams were working well and could serve as a model for other volatile countries

AP , MAZAR-E-SHARIF AND KABUL

NATO's top military chief says the alliance's reconstruction teams in Afghanistan are bringing stability to the war-shattered country, and could be used as a model for Iraq.

The claim comes despite growing concern about the country's shaky security. The kidnappings of three UN workers last week and attacks on soldiers in the US-led alliance have spurred doubts about whether NATO peacekeepers can pull Afghanistan out of two decades of war and poverty.

US General James Jones, NATO's supreme allied commander, was upbeat, pointing to last month's smoothly run presidential elections.

"Taliban and al-Qaeda did not have the ability to generate a spring offensive. This is evidence they are not a serious factor in this country anymore,'' Jones said.

Jones visited Afghanistan over the weekend, traveling to Kabul and the northern cities of Kunduz and Mazar-e-Sharif.

He said NATO's reconstruction teams in the north -- part of the alliance's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) -- were working well and could serve as a model for other volatile countries.

"As a concept it could work in many places, in Iraq, Africa, wherever,'' Jones said. "The concept is a good one."

Jones said he hopes that the 9,000-strong ISAF force can create two more reconstruction teams that could be sent to western Afghanistan by next year. In Mazar-e-Sharif, Spanish Lieutenant Colonel Javier Abajo, who heads the 500-strong Spanish airborne battalion sent for the Oct. 9 elections, said NATO troops were making a difference.

"The situation here is more stable now," he said.

But in Kunduz, 340km north of Kabul, German officials said a lot remains to be done to stabilize the country's so-called "breadbasket," which hugs the Hindu-Kush mountains.

"Officially we say it's calm, but not stable," said Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Schiebe of Germany.

Some NATO officials also are worried that Afghan insurgents could copy their Iraqi counterparts and step up violence to drive out international forces.

"I hope Iraq does not set an example," a senior NATO official said on condition of anonymity. "There are thousands of foreigners here, the UN, and aid workers."

Jones, however, said it was "too early to speculate" whether Afghan rebels were mimicking Iraqi insurgents.

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