Five new provincial reconstruction teams bound for areas outside Kabul.

NATO plans to deploy five new provincial reconstruction teams to Afghanistan in a bid to greater involve the alliance in the country beyond the capital of Kabul — and its top general plans to see progress as soon as June.

“We would like to do it as soon as possible,” said Gen. James L. Jones, the supreme allied commander. He said the plan is to have substantial work done before the alliance’s Istanbul summit starting June 28.

The United States is set to lobby for an official NATO role in Iraq at the summit, a particularly glowing potato following investigations into allegations of prisoner abuse at the hands of American troops. Increased alliance involvement in Afghanistan will also be on the list. Observers generally believe member states will be friendlier to that idea, or may even use expansion in Afghanistan as a compromise to avoid Iraq.

Whatever the summit holds, Jones said new reconstruction teams in the north and west of the country are already scheduled.

“NATO has committed to doing more in Afghanistan,” Jones said, “and this is a fairly dramatic effort for NATO which not too long ago was a landlocked, defense-of-Europe-type organization.”

The eventual size of the NATO peacekeeping effort there, however, and its relationship with the U.S.-led fighting force hunting terrorists, is still undetermined.

“We’ll see what NATO’s appetite is,” Jones said.

The United States already runs several of the teams, or PRTs. They build infrastructure, provide health care and distribute clothing. NATO now runs a prototype mission of its own under German command in Kunduz. Last month, Jones and the North Atlantic Council, the alliance’s chief decision-making body, visited President Hamid Karzai and international officials in Kabul and Kunduz.

“This visit allowed us to gain a firsthand impression of the current situation and the challenges that lie ahead,” said Minuto Rizzo, NATO’s deputy secretary general, in a statement. “But it was also a demonstration of NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan.”

The PRTs face obvious challenges in their quest to turn ancient, rugged landscapes and ragged villages into gardens fertile for democracy. But they likewise face security threats. Before the United States or NATO can build a PRT, they have to build a safe enough scene for one to function; they can’t build an irrigation system under gunfire.

And despite talk of eventually combining both the NATO and American missions in Afghanistan, Jones doesn’t see the alliance taking up the same saber as the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom anytime soon.

“I think that NATO’s interest for the foreseeable future is to do those things that relate to security, stability and reconstruction,” he said. “There is no mandate for NATO to participate in the physical combat — that is, chasing al-Qaida or combating forces along the border.”

NATO is widely viewed as having staked its future on rebuilding the slice of Central Asia where so many others — the Soviets, the British, Alexander the Great — have found millennia of headaches.

“Afghanistan is surely an important mission for NATO while defining its new role,” said Otfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information-center for Transatlantic Security.

Nassauer believes creating the foundation for an economy through efforts such as PRTs is necessary for eventual fights against drug trafficking.

At the same time, he sees opium operations as huge obstacles to peace, and the PRTs as costly. He said the U.S. wish list of greater NATO participation in Afghanistan, alliance commitment in Iraq and the training of peacekeepers for Africa may prove too much.

“If you look at the requirements to perform all these missions simultaneously,” Nassauer said, “this could easily overstretch NATO’s capability, as well of those of the U.S. and those of the EU.”

[Source: By Ward Sanderson, Stars And Stripes, 15May04]

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