KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – NATO’s top commander in Afghanistan warned yesterday that a majority of Afghans would likely switch their allegiance to resurgent Taliban militants if their lives show no visible improvements in the next six months.
Gen. David Richards, a British officer who commands NATO’s 32,000 troops here, told The Associated Press that he would like to have about 2,500 additional troops to form a reserve battalion to help speed up reconstruction and development efforts.
He said the south of the country, where NATO troops have fought their most intense battles this year, has been “broadly stabilized,” which gives the alliance an opportunity to launch projects there. If it doesn’t, he estimates about 70 percent of Afghans could switch their allegiance from NATO to the Taliban.
“They will say, ‘We do not want the Taliban but then we would rather have that austere and unpleasant life that that might involve than another five years of fighting,'” Richards said in an interview.
“We have created an opportunity,” following the intense fighting that left over 500 militants dead in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, he said. “If we do not take advantage of this, then you can pour an additional 10,000 troops next year and we would not succeed because we would have lost by then the consent of the people.”
NATO extended its security mission last week to all of Afghanistan, taking command of 12,000 U.S. troops in the war-battered country’s east. The mission is the biggest ground combat operation in NATO history and gives Richards command of the largest number of U.S. troops under a foreign leader since World War II.