This has been the deadliest year for NATO troops in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces, has said in a private memo that the mission will fail unless more troops are sent. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, however, takes a more optimistic view.
"We're winning," Rasmussen tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz. But Rasmussen says he shares McChrystal's analysis. "The situation is serious, but success is achievable."
"I will not exclude the possibility that we need more combat troops," Rasmussen continues, "but I think it's premature to make any final judgment." First, he says, NATO needs to digest McChrystal's initial assessment before making decisions.
That assessment is bleak. "The NATO command is poorly configured for counterinsurgency," McChrystal writes, "and inexperienced in local languages and cultures."
"NATO's own errors have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal adds, and Rasmussen shares that assessment. "We need a broader approach where we reinforce the interaction between the military efforts and the civilian efforts," he says.
"In particular, we need a credible and accountable government in Kabul — a government which delivers good governance and basic services to the Afghan people."
U.S. forces make up almost two-thirds of the 100,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan. The balance comes from more than 40 other countries, with only Britain topping 5,000 troops. Rasmussen emphasizes that this participation is crucial and takes issue with the perception that member states aren't taking Afghanistan as seriously as the U.S. is. "This is a multilateral mission, and it will stay as a multilateral mission," he says.
But convincing the international public that Afghanistan is worth the fight is another challenge. Rasmussen says the key is promoting the progress that has been made in the region so far.
"Today, 85 percent of the Afghan people have access to basic health services, compared to 6 percent in the past," he says. "We have constructed 3,500 schools. We have succeeded in a substantial reduction of the cultivation of opium, just to mention some of the positive stories."
"I think we have to improve our strategic communication and tell the truth about what is actually going on in Afghanistan."