ALEX CHADWICK, host:
First though to Afghanistan, where a NATO force today took over from the U.S. led coalition that had been operating in the south of that country. In recent months, this region has seen the deadliest attacks since the fall of the Taliban.
Well, today in Kandahar there was a ceremony and the U.S. general in charge of this coalition transferred command to a NATO force, a force that's led there by a British general, David Richards.
General Richards' spokesman and advisor is Mark Laity, and he joins us now by telephone from Kandahar.
Mark Laity, welcome to the program.
Mr. MARK LAITY (Spokesman for General David Richards): Thank you very much. Good to be here.
CHADWICK: General Richards recently described the situation in southern Afghanistan as anarchy. That doesn't sound very good. How strong are the Taliban there?
Mr. LAITY: Well, what General Richards was talking about was not anarchy in Afghanistan as a whole, but about some problems that the international community had had in coordinating its efforts. And he felt to succeed in Afghanistan, then you need a combination of security, development and governance, and that we were not coordinating those things very well. And that's what he called anarchy.
It's not a question of anarchy in Afghanistan, but you're certainly right. The south is a challenging area. It has had the bulk of the recent violence, and we need to do something about it. And the American-led coalition has done a good job. We're now taking over and we've got 37 nations in the ISAF coalitions that are determined to do something about it.
CHADWICK: If I hear you correctly, Mr. Laity, you're saying that the General's description of anarchy, that doesn't apply to the situation you face in Afghanistan. That applies to the coalition forces and the efforts to confront the situation in Afghanistan. The anarchy is on our side.
Mr. LAITY: He was describing the international coordination. I think the coalition is one part of that international coordination. We're not going to win just by killing insurgents or Taliban. The way we're going to win is by showing to the people of the whole of Afghanistan that we're doing a good job, but we've got to do better, that they are going to gain from cooperating with the government, from rejecting the Taliban, from rejecting violence, from rejecting the narco-traffickers.
And to do that, we need to coordinate better. We need to coordinate our security efforts with development and with better governance from the government of Afghanistan.
CHADWICK: If I lived in a village in southern Afghanistan, what difference would it make to me that NATO has now assumed command in this area?
Mr. LAITY: Where we are different to the coalition is the coalition has had relatively fewer forces. At the heart of what General Richards is hoping to do with ISAF, we're going to have substantially more forces on the ground. And indeed, you've been seeing that build-up over the last few months.
I wouldn't like to take this as a criticism of the coalition. We're building on the work they've done. But with these extra forces, it means that there's some things we can do and that means more presence on the ground.
CHADWICK: Are you talking about introducing more troops into Afghanistan in the coming months, and if you are, how many more?
Mr. LAITY: Well, what's been happening is that most of the extra troops which have been coming in recently, although they've temporarily been under the coalition control, the U.S. control, they've been deployed for the NATO-led ISAF. More troops will be coming. In the end, the number of troops in the south, which will be purely NATO-led ISAF, will be about eight and a half thousand, which is several thousand more than were there before.
CHADWICK: You mentioned drugs and the drug trade. That's been a problem. There was a UN report a couple of months ago noting that the opium trade may set a record this year. Is this going to be a focus of NATO operations? Can you fight the drug trade and the Taliban at the same time? Or do you think they're one and the same?
Mr. LAITY: NATO has specifically said it will not get involved in the direct eradication of drugs. NATO's troops will not be burning poppy fields. It is no good burning down the poppy field of a farmer who has no alternative but to grow poppy. All it does is it makes him a supporter of the Taliban.
So if you want to get rid of drugs - and we certainly do - then what you need to do is build up an alternative economy. You've got to be able to give him alternative crops, a way to get them to market, help with packaging them. And that's the way to get rid of drugs, and that is the thing that both the coalition and NATO are supporting
CHADWICK: Speaking with us from Afghanistan, Mark Laity. He's with NATO, which today took command of operations in the south.
Mark Laity, thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.