The head of NATO has told a German newspaper that the international community underestimated the consequences of the mission in Afghanistan.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily that the price being paid by the military alliance was much higher than had been expected at the beginning of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in 2001.
"After nine years of international engagement it has become clear in a painful manner that the price we must pay is higher than expected," Rasmussen told the publication.
The former Danish prime minister added that international troops and Afghan forces would face more casualties as they stepped up their offensive against the Taliban insurgency. He said, however, that in the long-run this would undermine the Islamist movement.
"You serve to weaken the Taliban politically, as well as militarily," Rasmussen said. "This will encourage many people who have joined the Taliban to leave their post and push for reconciliation."
Forces staying put
Rasmussen said it was also important to send a clear message that international forces had a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.
"Even if our troops move into a supporting role, Afghanistan will need the constant support of the international community, including NATO," Rasmussen said.
The Afghan people must know that "we will continue to stand by their side when they decide their own course in the future," he said.
The comments come a day before an international conference in Kabul, hosted by President Hamid Karzai and UN chief Ban Ki-Moon.
Karzai is expected to lay out a timeframe for Afghan police and military to take responsibility for the country's security, allowing international troops to withdraw by 2014.
Around 70 delegates are expected in Kabul for the conference on Tuesday, led by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Author: Darren Mara (Reuters/dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner