NATO Takes Expanded Role in Afghanistan

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is boosting the level of troops in Afghanistan to confront forces loyal to the Taliban. U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland discusses developments with John Ydstie.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Victoria Nuland, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, has said that the growing multinational presence in southern Afghanistan will need to be the toughest fighting force that NATO has ever fielded. Ambassador Nuland joins us in the studio to talk about the challenges ahead. Welcome.

Ms. VICTORIA NULAND (U.S. Ambassador to NATO): Thank you very much, John.

YDSTIE: Do the rules of engagement differ between U.S. forces and NATO forces?

Ms. NULAND: We will still retain in Afghanistan, even when NATO moves east, the coalition force, which is U.S. led, to do the counterterrorism mission, the real hunting and gathering of the real bad actors on the border. The rules of engagement for that force are considerably more lethal, but we have greatly toughened NATO's own rules as well as we move into the south.

YDSTIE: But as I understand it, each NATO country has its own limits on how its troops will operate in Afghanistan, so-called national caveats. The Canadians and Dutch, for example, have agreed to fight the Taliban in the south, but they've said they will not keep detainees. And our reporters in Afghanistan have heard that these kinds of national caveats raise concern among Afghans that NATO's ability to do the job may be compromised.

Ms. NULAND: National caveats have been a problem in Afghanistan. We have worked very hard with allies to reduce caveats over the last year. And we're particularly pleased that all of these allies going into the south have lifted virtually all their caveats.

The issue of detainees is different. NATO is now working on strengthening a comprehensive detainee policy for all of us to follow.

YDSTIE: So you're saying that...

Ms. NULAND: Any but the highest...

YDSTIE: At this point, the U.S. forces, Canadian forces and Dutch forces are going to act similarly. When they capture someone in the south, they will have the same policy for dealing with that detainee?

Ms. NULAND: That is absolutely the goal.

YDSTIE: That's the goal, but is that the policy at this point?

Ms. NULAND: We haven't yet finished our work on the detainee policy, but that is our plan, to finish a strong detainee policy that we can all join up to before the end of July when NATO takes over.

YDSTIE: Are NATO countries ready to accept the casualties that are inevitable as this fighting intensifies?

Ms. NULAND: This has been this spring and summer as we get ready for this higher-intensity mission for NATO. The Secretary General of NATO has been out on the airwaves and on the TV screens in Europe saying that this is not blue-hatted peacekeeping, this is an intense mission. And we have been, all of us, have been out explaining the kinds of fighting that's going on this summer.

So, you know, it's a matter of preparing public opinion, so we'll see.

YDSTIE: A Pew Center poll this week of European and Muslim attitudes showed greater concern about U.S. troops in Iraq than about Iran's nuclear ambitions. It also shows declining support for the U.S.-led war on terror. Why do you think the Europeans are showing less support for the U.S.-led war on terror?

Ms. NULAND: You know, I think that for Europeans in general, insecurity in their cities, insecurity on their streets is a daily threat. But they don't necessarily see it as being connected directly to Iraq. And they also - you know, remember that Europe for many, many centuries was a very bloody place, including right through the last century.

And the net result of that is that they have real anxieties about the use of force, because it brought them to grief so much of the time on their own continents. But the good news is that in Afghanistan, we now have all 26 allies, because we've all recognized that, yes, we need to support development and governance, but we also still need to go out and uproot Taliban, and that that takes military forces.

YDSTIE: Victoria Nuland is U.S. ambassador to NATO. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. NULAND: Thank you, John.

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