U.S., NATO Reaffirm Commitment in Afghanistan

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 29, 2008; 3:37 PM

The United States and NATO reaffirmed their "long-term commitment" to Afghanistan today, pledging to help the U.S.-backed Afghan government consolidate security despite a growing insurgency by the radical Islamic Taliban movement that is being fueled by a burgeoning drug trade.

President Bush and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer stressed the commitment in brief remarks to reporters following a 45-minute meeting in the White House.

"The United States is committed to the NATO mission in Afghanistan," Bush said. "We're committed to a comprehensive strategy that helps folks in Afghanistan realize security, at the same time, economic prosperity and political process."

De Hoop Scheffer, a former Dutch foreign minister, said: "We have a long- term commitment vis-a-vis Afghanistan. . . . All 26 NATO allies are there, and we are there for the long haul."

NATO forces are in Afghanistan "to support President [Hamid] Karzai and the Afghan people," he said. "But we are also there because we are fighting terrorism and we cannot afford to lose. We will not lose. We are not losing. We are prevailing."

Neither Bush nor de Hoop Scheffer mentioned in their brief remarks a State Department report today that said record illegal drug production in Afghanistan is fueling the Taliban insurgency. The Taliban movement harbored the al-Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan before it was driven from power in Kabul by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in November 2001.

The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said production of opium poppies in Afghanistan increased by 34 percent in 2007 from record levels in 2006 and reached nearly double the total for 2005. Afghanistan last year accounted for about 93 percent of the world's opium poppy crop, which was worth an estimated $4 billion and represented more than a third of the country's gross domestic product.

The drug production is helping to supply the Taliban with money and arms, and a "long-term national and international commitment" is needed to counter it, the report said. It called on the Afghan government to "take decisive action against poppy cultivation soon to turn back the drug threat before its further growth and consolidation make it even more difficult to defeat."

Before today's meeting, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters that it gave Bush an opportunity to talk about the NATO summit in Bucharest in early April, as well as critical NATO issues such as Afghanistan and missile defense. Johndroe said a "key focus" of the April 2-4 summit would be "NATO's transformation through improved military capabilities and continued NATO enlargement."

Bush said after the Oval Office meeting with de Hoop Scheffer that he was looking forward to getting an assessment of the progress of NATO candidate nations in meeting the alliance's obligations "before we take the vote on enlargement."

The NATO secretary general urged the countries concerned to "go on with their reforms," adding, "Nothing is affirmed yet, but NATO enlargement will be on the agenda of the Bucharest summit."

Bush later flew to his ranch in Texas, where he is hosting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen for talks on matters including Afghanistan and the NATO summit. Denmark has about 300 troops in Afghanistan.

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