Stressing that the new strategy of the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan is showing results, top American commander Gen Stanley McCrystal has sought to shore up public support for Germany’s highly unpopular military mission in that country.
The new strategy of showing stronger military presence, especially in populated areas, in partnership with the Afghan security forces, is very crucial for winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, Gen McCrystal said after talks with German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg here.
However, this strategy, which the International Security Assistance Force has been pursuing in Afghanistan since early this year, also involves great risks, as the death of seven German soldiers in attacks by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan earlier this month shows, Gen McCrystal said.
German public support for the Afghanistan engagement dropped sharply since four soldiers were killed in an attack on their convoy by the Taliban during a joint patrol with Afghan security forces in Baghlan last Thursday and three soldiers died in an attack on a similar patrol in Kundus two weeks earlier.
Latest opinion polls showed that more than 60 per cent of the German public want the country’s soldiers to be pulled out immediately.
Gen McCrystal said in a German television interview that the battle against the insurgents can be won only if the people of Afghanistan are firmly behind the government and the security forces.
There will be less attacks if the people support the government and the security forces and the Taliban will have difficulties to get new recruits, he said.
But it also meant that the international forces will have to take into account certain risks in the short term.
To go out in the populated areas and to seek contacts with the public always involved risks.
“It must be clear to everybody concerned that the most effective protection for the Afghan people and the security forces is to get the Afghan public fully behind them,” he said.
The governments involved in the NATO-led mission should make it clear to their people that this kind of operation involved risks all over Afghanistan.
“We must accept these risks. At the same time, we must do everything possible to protect our forces while fulfilling our mission effectively,” he said.
Gen McCrystal lobbed the engagement of the German forces in Afghanistan and said his decision to put a contingent of 2,500 American troops under the German command in northern Afghanistan “is a testimony to the full confidence” in their leadership.