Although the Taliban appear to currently have the upper hand in Afghanistan, Col. Knut Peters, a spokesperson for NATO in Kabul, told DW that the mission has seen success and that upcoming elections are a positive sign.
DW: It's been 17 years since the first US military operation against terrorism in Afghanistan. After all this time, the Taliban now again appear to be advancing. Can we still say that the NATO mission has succeeded?
Knut Peters: Yes, I think we can, and I think there are a number of clear examples. I was first in Afghanistan in 2002 and I saw how the capital Kabul, along with the entire country, lay in ruins. Since then, I have spent more than a year of my life in Afghanistan and now I see that refugees from the entire world are returning – especially from Pakistan and Iran.
These are people who have the courage to build a new future in this country and to clearly reject violence. This is an achievement for us today. Of course, the security situation in Afghanistan remains very difficult and complex. We continue to experience acts of violence, but we also make it abundantly clear that violence cannot solve conflicts. NATO presence is intended to provide the Afghan government a way to find a political solution. With this goal in mind, our assistance amounts to training and advising Afghan police and Afghan security forces.
But the Taliban has meanwhile expanded territories under its control, supposedly amounting to over 30 percent of the country.
Anyone who knows Afghanistan – and like I've said, I have spent a lot of time in the country – also knows that numbers are a very difficult thing. They vary in the space of days, weeks or months. And there are interested parties that publicize numbers, which in turn cannot be verified. We are convinced that numbers are not the best measuring stick for ascertaining success in Afghanistan. We focus on condition-based outcomes. This includes conditions for political agreements – such as the upcoming elections. We are confident this is the right way forward.
Erik Prince, the founder of the US private military contractor Blackwater, was in Afghanistan recently to lobby for the privatization of the fight against the terrorism in the country. What is NATO's position on the use of private contractors?
NATO's position is that of Afghanistan's government. We are here at their invitation under a mandate from the United Nations. In recent days, the Afghan government has clearly rejected the use of private military contractors. It is out of the question for Kabul and therefore out of the question for NATO.
The US military has also clearly outlined its position on the use of private military contractors in Afghanistan. US Army General Joseph Votel, who heads the US Central Command, said a few days ago that the privatization of the war is out of the question. The proposal is absolutely not on the table for NATO.
You mentioned the return of Afghan refugees as symbolizing the success of the NATO mission. At the same time, the UN is reporting hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons in Afghanistan.
The security situation in Afghanistan is difficult and there is no sugarcoating it. Those who undertake acts of violence are responsible for this situation. This is why we support the Afghan government in ending this violence and finding political solutions.
But the fact remains that the Taliban control rural areas.
I already mentioned how numbers are a highly volatile matter in Afghanistan. I don't comment on numbers because their accuracy changes daily and weekly. What I can say is that the security situation is extremely difficult and Afghan troops are working with great courage and commitment to oppose the Taliban. That is a fact, and we continue in our steadfast support of the Afghan government.
After many years of delay, Afghanistan is set to hold parliamentary elections on October 20. To what extent can NATO guarantee security at the polls?
These elections are purely a matter for the Afghans and NATO will not have a presence. What we have been doing for over a year is advising and supporting the Afghan government, the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defense in their planning and preparation. This includes developing security concepts for polling stations along with preparing election materials. This is a big logistical challenge for a large country like Afghanistan and we provide the support the government needs.
Colonel Knut Peters is press speaker for NATO's Resolute Support mission based in Kabul, Afghanistan.