Afghanistan's security forces are scheduled to take the lead in the fight against insurgents in the spring. Despite all the difficulties, ISAF spokesman Günter Katz tells DW the country is on the right track.
DW: Brigadier General, at a meeting with his army, Afghan President Hamid Karzai instructed his security forces that, in future, even in an emergency, they should not use NATO air support. Is this a sign of distrust of NATO and ISAF?
Günter Katz: Firstly, Mr Karzai is the president of a sovereign state who gives instructions to his own security forces. I think that is a quite normal thing. With this step he is trying to take greater consideration of deaths and injuries among the civilian population. This is also clearly in ISAF's interest. In that respect, our interests are the same. The commander of ISAF has made clear that we will act according to the president's wish and, in any case, continue to support the Afghan security forces.
Afghanistan itself has only a very weak functioning air force. Does that mean that the Afghan army must now fight against the Taliban and other rebels without air support?
The Afghan security forces will have to do that in the future without the air support of NATO or, more specifically, ISAF. As I have said, we will adhere to the president's wish. The Afghans have a basic competence as far as their air force is concerned. They also have a very well-trained artillery which can play a supporting role, meaning there are other options. The details of how we will implement the whole thing with our Afghan partners, and how we will proceed in the future, will be discussed in the coming days.
The Afghans have always said that their air force is very weak. In this case, NATO must not only provide training but also equip them with the necessary weaponry. To what extent is that actually happening?
We do that already and we are on the right track. Of course, we cannot forget that it is much more difficult to establish an air force in comparison with an army. We are dealing with a country here in which 75 percent of the population is illiterate. We need an air force in which everyone can read and write and in which the pilots and technicians know English, because the documentation is only available in English. Then we are faced with the challenge of training pilots, and also technicians. All of that takes a very long time. We anticipate that it will take until 2016 before the air force is fully operational. We will continue our efforts and we are already seeing the first successes: Afghan crews are now manning helicopters - the Afghans already have a small capacity for air transport so we are already heading in the right direction. We just have to accept that it takes longer with air force than with other forces.
US President Barack Obama last week announced that 34,000 troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of the year. His Afghan counterpart Karzai has decreed, in future, his forces should not call upon NATO air support. Experts say that such messages only go to strengthen the rebels. How great is the danger that Afghanistan will slide into another civil war in 2014?
We cannot forget that what President Obama said had already been decided in the 2010 NATO summit as far as deadlines and strategy are concerned. The US can certainly withdraw 34,000 soldiers within the coming year. We know that the Afghan forces will, in principle, take the lead in the fight from spring onwards. The results that we see there are such that we can look forward to the future with satisfaction. Afghanistan will not slide into a civil war as it did after the fall of the Najibullah regime. We have 50 countries that, most recently at the NATO Summit in Chicago, have said that they will remain involved in the country even beyond 2014.
At the Afghanistan Conference in Tokyo in summer last year, we received clear commitments as far as funding is concerned. We are able to say that the international community will not leave the country on its own but will instead stand side by side with Afghanistan when it comes to ensuring a better, more secure future.
Brigadier General Günter Katz is the spokesman of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.
Interview: Abdul Bari Hakim