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The Wall Street Journal

August 3, 2006                        
Editorial: Securing Afghanistan

Securing Afghanistan was never going to be an easy task. The timing of the grenade attacks that killed three British soldiers Tuesday -- only a day after NATO assumed command of the country's restive southern provinces -- highlights the challenges that remain nearly five years after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban.

Afghanistan's is NATO's first mission outside Europe and a test of the alliance's relevance in the war on terror. In recent months, a combination of Taliban fighters, foreign terrorists, warlords and drug traffickers has embarked on a sustained spree of violence aimed at testing NATO's resolve. The "spring offensive" is a reaction to NATO's expanding presence in Afghanistan, as it assumes command from the U.S. of more and more of the coalition forces. By targeting the 7,000 British, Canadian and Dutch troops who are stationed in the south, the terrorists are hoping to weaken political support in London, Ottawa and The Hague.

In the south, NATO will lead the fight against the Taliban and the drug lords who are backing them. It also plans to establish secure zones, allowing development to take place. While U.S.-led coalition forces have been successful in routing the Taliban from the areas to which it has returned, it's often not a permanent solution. As soon as the international forces leave, the Taliban comes back.

A strong, credible Afghan police force would help here. Unfortunately, there's a distinct lack of funding for one. Less than half of $26 billion of the international aid pledged to Afghanistan has actually arrived. Police officers are paid only $40 a month, Said Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States told us in a meeting in our offices in New York last week. It's hard to fight the temptations of corruption or the drug trade with that tiny paycheck. Kabul can't do much to pitch in yet, as its economy is tiny and its tax revenues are almost non-existent beyond customs duties.

The lack of funding also hinders crucial reconstruction efforts, such as the building of roads, bridges and schools, which in many cases are being built from scratch. There are successes to boast of -- such as the skyrocketing number of children, especially girls, who are back in school.

But Kabul could certainly use the monies promised to it.

Foreign donors have focused on equipping and training the Afghan army, which is halfway toward its goal of putting 70,000 men under arms. But more is needed. At present, much of its equipment is outdated and not interoperable with NATO. It has no armored vehicles, for example, and no communications equipment through which to coordinate activities with NATO forces. NATO is quietly negotiating with the Afghan government, we're told, to provide more equipment. We hope the headquarters in Brussels ponies up.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's neighbors -- in particular, Pakistan -- could do more to help. It's no secret that many of the insurgents coming across the borders enjoy refuge in Pakistan's Baluchistan and Waziristan provinces. It wasn't so long ago that Islamabad refused to acknowledge the problem, refusing to go after terrorists holed up in Pakistan even when Afghanistan provided their addresses or the locations of training camps. Now that Islamabad perceives a domestic threat from the same groups -- a trend replayed in London and Madrid not so long ago -- its attitude is starting to change.

Still, it's reasonable to assume that for a long while yet, Afghanistan's security will rest on the broad shoulders of NATO. Here, there's lots of good news to relate. When NATO troops arrived in August 2003, they patrolled only around Kabul. Today, after scaling a remarkably steep learning curve, a 37-nation-strong force reaches into the north, west -- and now, south -- of the country. The U.S. remains in command of the forces in eastern Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan, where Taliban and al Qaeda are active. If things go as planned, NATO will take command of the international forces in all of the country by the end of November.

The challenge for NATO is to maintain its political support. As the Dutch parliament's public wavering demonstrated in January, even when countries agree on a mission, they don't always have the nerve to carry it through.

Afghanistan's new government has a lot of work to do, too. The drug trade is a serious problem, and worsening. Meanwhile, the country's judiciary is short of qualified candidates, and corruption has been a problem. A stellar army and police force will mean little if criminals can't be brought to justice.

Today, nearly five years down the road, Afghanistan is a much better place than it was. It's a democracy, backed up by NATO's guns. As the past few months have shown, that won't be enough to achieve a lasting peace. Only the Afghans can do that. Here's hoping that NATO will stay there long enough to help them succeed.

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