By Al Pessin
The top United Nations envoy for Afghanistan says more foreign troops are needed to help secure the country, and to train its army and police forces. The envoy, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, spoke to reporters at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, Friday.
U.N. Special Envoy Kai Eide was blunt during a news conference before meeting with NATO’s defense ministers. The Norwegian diplomat told reporters he endorsed the grim assessment by the NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, and his call for a change in the way the alliance operates in the country.
“We have come to a point where I believe McChrystal is right,” Eide said. “If we continue the way we’ve done so far, both with regard to the military effort, the civilian effort and the behavior of the Afghan government, this project will not work. Does it mean it’s not doable? I believe it is doable, but it requires some basic changes, both from the Afghan government and from the international community.”
General McChrystal is asking for tens of thousands more troops, although the exact figure is secret. Ambassador Eide endorsed the idea, but would not be specific on how many more foreign troops he thinks Afghanistan needs.
“I do believe, yes, that additional international troops are required,” Eide said. “And I emphasize in particular the need that we have for such troops in order to partner better and mentor the Afghan national security forces as they grow.”
He said that means working directly with the Afghan forces, and helping provide security between now and when the Afghans can handle the job on their own. And he called on coalition countries to all do their share.
“I believe that this can not be a U.S. only enterprise,” Eide said. “There has to be contribution from other troop contributors, and in particular Europeans.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is attending this meeting with a similar message, calling for a broad range of additional European help in Afghanistan, even though President Barack Obama has not yet decided whether to send more U.S. troops.
Mr. Eide, the U.N. envoy, also welcomed preparations for the Afghan presidential runoff election on November 7. He said he has a commitment from the Afghan election commission that officials involved in fraud during the first round will not be hired for the runoff. But he also admitted he will not be able to prevent all fraud in the second round.
“I do not expect that we will be able to eliminate fraud in two weeks’ time,” Eide said. “I think that’s beyond the realm of what is possible in such a short time. But what I do expect and what we will try to do is to reduce the level of fraud.”
Kai Eide said a cleaner election and a credible government will go a long way toward closing what he called the “gap” between the Afghan people and officials in Kabul. He also said a more responsive and effective Afghan government would help dispel doubt in the international community and inspire more assistance. He called the runoff and the period afterward when a new government is formed a “turning point” in the effort to defeat the extremists and deliver good government and economic development to Afghanistan.