Afghanistan to Dominate NATO Summit
Monday, November 27, 2006; 6:20 AM
RIGA, Latvia -- One issue will dominate this week's NATO summit _ Afghanistan.
The 26 presidents and prime ministers all know that the future of their alliance is playing out in the deserts of Kandahar and mountains of Uruzgan rather than in their conference hall on the Baltic Sea.
The rise in Taliban violence since NATO's 32,800-strong force moved into those southern provinces and the resultant casualties among civilians and Western soldiers has called into question the strategy behind NATO's "stabilization" force in Afghanistan.
Before traveling to Europe for the summit, President Bush spoke on the phone with his Afghan counterpart. "President Bush assured President Hamid Karzai that the United States of America will reiterate its commitment at the NATO summit to the strengthening of security and reconstruction in Afghanistan," said a statement from Karzai's office in Kabul.
The dangers to the NATO force were underscored by attacks in the run-up to the summit that ended a period of relative calm. Two Canadian soldiers serving with the NATO force were reported slain by a suicide car bomber Monday. A day earlier, a suicide bomber killed 15 Afghans in a restaurant.
The summit Tuesday and Wednesday in Latvia's capital, Riga, will be Bush's first meeting with European allies since he was chastened by Democrat success in the midterm elections and bid farewell to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Allied leaders will be looking for any change in emphasis from the Bush administration following Rumsfeld's resignation. But on Afghanistan, the message is likely to be a reaffirmation of the alliance's determination to stay the course.
"I don't believe there is an alternative but to fight this and to fight it for as long as it takes," British Prime Minister Tony Blair told troops in southern Afghanistan last week.
Leaders will talk up battlefield successes against the Taliban in recent months and point to statistics showing health care and education improvements in Afghanistan as illustrating the success of their mission.
They will stress the need to follow up military advances quickly with development aid to win over hearts and minds. And they will pledge to do more through the United Nations and the European Union to provide civilian support to the Afghan government, from building roads and schools to training the police and tackling the narcotics trade.
"A military mission alone will not succeed," U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland said.
"We must have security married to good governance and development, and that means the EU, U.N. and NATO working in harmony with Afghans," she wrote on NATO's Web site last week.