19 Jan 2009

Afghanistan held back by weak leadership - NATO

10:54 am on 19 January 2009

NATO's top official has blamed weak leadership in Afghanistan for the country's sluggish progress, as much as the Taliban-led insurgency.

The organisation's secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said in an opinion piece in Sunday's Washington Post that the basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban but the country has too little central control.

The longer it takes to see progress, he said, the longer the military operation remains in place at a "real cost in lives."

"But we have paid enough, in blood and treasure, to demand that the Afghan government take more concrete and vigorous action to root out corruption and increase efficiency, even where that means difficult political choices," Mr de Hoop Scheffer said.

"Afghan leadership is not some distant aspiration -- it's something that we need as soon as possible and on which we must insist," he wrote.

He said that while NATO is obliged to keep ramping up the military operation, force alone cannot solve Afghanistan's problems.

The United States sent troops to Afghanistan seven years ago, in response to the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda in 2001, toppling the leading Taliban group that had been sheltering al Qaeda's leaders.

President-elect Barack Obama has committed to sending more US forces to Afghanistan to tackle insurgent violence that has risen in recent years.

The United States currently has about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to add at least another 13,000 forces by summer, according to Pentagon officials.