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Gen.: Afghanistan Victory Hangs on Rebuilding Effort

British Lt. Gen. David Richards (left), NATO's top general in Afghanistan, talks with U.S. Col. Steve Williams, one of the men in charge of the Panjwayi operation, outside Panjwayi, in the southern Kandahar province.
Bronwen Roberts / AFP/Getty Images
British Lt. Gen. David Richards (left), NATO's top general in Afghanistan, talks with U.S. Col. Steve Williams, one of the men in charge of the Panjwayi operation, outside Panjwayi, in the southern Kandahar province.

On Oct. 7, 2001, U.S. and British forces began a bombing campaign against Afghanistan's Taliban government in retaliation for its support of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. Five years later, the international community appears to be at a crossroads in the effort to rebuild Afghanistan as a democratic nation.

A key leader in that effort is Lt. Gen. David Richards of the United Kingdom. He heads NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a 20,000-person force drawn from 37 countries, including the U.S., U.K. and Canada.

Speaking to NPR's Jacki Lyden, Richards said NATO has proved its military strength against a resurgent Taliban. But the general also said that the Afghan government and international community must come through with reconstruction activities that benefit the general population if they are to win the war against the Taliban and other divisive forces in the country.

"This thing is going to be won or lost depending on the consent of the people of Afghanistan," Richards said. "What they want to see now is success in reconstruction and development, and that's what we've got to set about doing over this winter."

The NATO force, and 13 Provincial Reconstruction Teams, operate across Afghanistan in support of the country's elected government, headed by President Hamid Karzai.

"What have the Taliban got to offer? Nothing more than more misery," Richards said. "[They offer] no education, no education for women in particular, no reconstruction and development."

At the end of July, a major milestone took place when responsibility for the security of Afghanistan's volatile southern region was handed from a U.S.-led coalition to the NATO force and 8,000 of its troops.

Almost immediately, NATO's new command was challenged directly by the Taliban in the southern province of Kandahar. Canadian, U.S. and Dutch forces participating in ISAF soundly defeated the Taliban in the largest series of battles since the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001 by U.S. forces.

Now is the moment that the international community must make progress in improving the lives of the Afghan people, according to Richards.

"We've all now got to focus on achieving. It's delivering on the promises [of reconstruction]," Richards said. "And to be very fair, the international community hasn't done that, and the government hasn't done that [so far]."

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