NATO Head On Afghanistan: 'We're Winning' 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 there, has said the mission will fail unless more troops are sent. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen takes a more optimistic view.
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NATO Head On Afghanistan: 'We're Winning'

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NATO Head On Afghanistan: 'We're Winning'

NATO Head On Afghanistan: 'We're Winning'

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

This hour, from escalation in Afghanistan to a look back at the Soviet doomsday machine and the man who may have saved the world from nuclear disaster.

But first to Iran, where a top nuclear official there said today that his country will allow U.N. inspectors to visit a previously secret uranium enrichment facility. The discovery of that plant, revealed Friday, has led to renewed calls for international sanctions against the Islamic republic. Here's President Obama from his radio address this morning.

President BARACK OBAMA: Iran's leaders must now choose. They can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations, or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people.

RAZ: The Obama administration is also wrestling with how to change strategy in Afghanistan. General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in that country, has written a private memo to the defense secretary warning that the mission there will fail unless more troops are sent. That was the main topic of a conversation I had this week with NATO's Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during his visit to New York.

Secretary General, welcome to the program.

Secretary General ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO): Thank you.

RAZ: Right now, as you know, the United States is undertaking a strategic reassessment of the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan. This has now been the deadliest year for NATO troops there. How would you assess the overall situation in Afghanistan right now? Is NATO winning? Is NATO losing? Or is it somewhere in between?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: We're winning. But I share the analysis presented by General McChrystal. According to him, the situation is serious, but success is achievable.

RAZ: General McChrystal, who is the U.S. NATO commander in that country now, says unless he receives a substantial number of additional troops within a year, the mission will fail. Do you agree with that assessment?

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: I will not exclude the possibility that we need more combat troops. But I think it's premature to make any final judgment. Now we will go through McChrystal's initial assessment and his resource paper, and then we will take the necessary decisions.

RAZ: In a memo to the president, the general has written, and I'm quoting now, "The NATO command is poorly configured for counterinsurgency, it's inexperienced in local languages and cultures. NATO's own errors have given Afghans little reason to support their government." Do you agree with his position?

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: Yeah. I hear his analysis. I think he's right in pointing to the fact that we need a more comprehensive approach. There's no military solution solely to the problems in Afghanistan. We need a broader approach where we reinforce the interaction between the military efforts and the civilian efforts. And in particular, we need a credible and accountable government in Kabul, a government which delivers good governance and basic services to the Afghan people.

RAZ: Secretary General Rasmussen, U.S. forces, as you know, make up more than 65 percent of the 100,000-plus NATO troops in Afghanistan. There is a perception, fair or unfair, in this country that not enough NATO member states are taking Afghanistan as seriously as the United States is. Do you think that's a fair perception?

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: No, it's not a fair perception. Obviously, the United States make the biggest contribution to our mission in Afghanistan. But all in all, 41 countries share the burden. And it's crucial to observe that this is a multilateral mission, and it will stay as a multilateral mission.

RAZ: How do you convince the European public and the American public that Afghanistan is worth the fight? I mean, public opinion in this country is turning and it is already turned in Europe. How do you make the case?

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: By telling the true story about what is going on. The fact is that we have seen a lot of progress in Afghanistan. Today, 85 percent of the Afghan people have access to basic health services, compared to six percent in the past. We have constructed 3,500 schools. We have succeeded in a substantial reduction in the cultivation of opium, just to mention some of the positive stories. And I think we have to improve our strategic communication and tell the truth about what is actually going on in Afghanistan.

RAZ: I want to ask you about Russia for a moment. Given the Obama administration's decision to scrap its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, you have called for a joint NATO/Russia missile defense shield to protect the two sides against a common threat, as you say. What is the common threat to NATO and Russia right now?

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: Well, we all know that Iran has nuclear ambitions. That's one clear threat. My point is that despite all disputes between us and the Russians, we do share security interests in a number of areas where we are faced with the same security threats: terrorism, Afghanistan, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, piracy, just to mention some of these areas. And my suggestion is that we develop a practical cooperation in those areas where we share interests, and one of these is missile defense.

RAZ: Do all NATO member states, in your view, regard Iran as a threat to Europe?

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: I think so. And here and now, the way forward should be to maximize the international, political and diplomatic pressure on Iran. I hope that we can find a peaceful solution to that problem.

RAZ: Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the new secretary general of NATO. He spoke with us from New York.

Mr. Secretary General, thanks for your time.

Secretary General RASMUSSEN: Thank you. Welcome.

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