DET TALTE ORD GÆLDER
KONFERENCE OM AFGHANISTAN 1. APRIL 2008 1. april 2008
During the last fortnight Denmark has tragically lost five soldiers in the Helmand Province. And four young soldiers have been injured, two of them seriously.
When such sad events happen I am often asked, what Danish troops and other Western troops are doing in the remote areas of Afghanistan.
Why have we committed troops to such a dangerous mission and why are we endangering the lives of our young soldiers? What is the use?
These questions are fair to ask.
My answer is clear (and I can only agree with the Minister of Foreign Affairs): We do it because it is right and we do it because it is necessary. Not only for the people of Afghanistan - but also for the security our own people. This is why we send our soldiers to Afghanistan
So what are our soldiers facing in Afghanistan? What are the Afghans facing? They face a tough, capable and determined enemy.
Do not be mistaken by the Talibans' apparently rough appearance and primitive equipment. Their methods and approach is very modern even if their perception of the World is utterly reactionary.
Clearly the Taliban have realized two things: the power of terrorism and asymmetric warfare to cause insecurity and to influence politics.
And the reluctance of some western countries to deploy troops in a long and dangerous mission.
They are experts at using the media to influence our perception of the conflict. They know that if a suicide bomber kills innocent people in Afghanistan, the image presented to the western public is often one of failed western policy instead of an outrage against terrorism.
So we are up against enemies that see their strategic advantages as terrorism and time. They are not conventional armies.
But they are far from supermen. Again and again our troops in ISAF and the Afghan National Army have beaten them severely.
Yet they cannot be defeated by conventional means alone. And they know it.
Thy also know that by killing or maiming our soldiers they provoke questions regarding our presence in Afghanistan. They simply wait for us to become exhausted and give up.
We on our side often seem to have forgotten that this is a right cause and a struggle between the wish to submit people to oppression on the one side and freedom and peace on the other side.
We also seem to forget that our soldiers have been sent out with a mandate to replace these former dictators with a UN backed process towards democracy.
So should we take the easy and convenient way and give up? Should we withdraw our troops?
No, it would be a long-term disaster of strategic proportions. It would only strengthen fanatics and encourage their sympathisers elsewhere.
The mission is very dangerous – but it will be more dangerous to the International Community if we chose not to act.
Whatever the difficulties and risks they are nothing compared to the dangers we will face if we allow Afghanistan to fall back into the hands of the Taliban and terrorists.
And we must remember that although many things are very far from good in Afghanistan, not everything is always as bad as often portrayed.
ISAF have tactically defeated the Taliban again and again during the winter and created opportunities for reconstruction. Slowly but gradually the Taliban are being expelled from the Green Zone in Helmand.
But the situation in southern and eastern Afghanistan is still very insecure.
However, the North and the West of Afghanistan are relatively stable. This demonstrates that the mission can be accomplished.
In these areas progress has been made in the last six years, but there will be many challenges and opportunities in the years ahead.
The Afghan Security Forces are also showing increasing capability. I only have to remind you of the Afghan National Army’s success in Musa Qala.
The Afghan National Army clearly demonstrated its potential and that it is now more professional and reliable than ever. But much more needs to be done. We must provide trainers, equipment and money to the Afghan National Army in order to further enhance its capacity.
Here it is important to remember that the institutions of a functioning Afghan state, including the armed forces, are being established from scratch. This takes time. We must be patient.
We must also remember, that military success in itself means very little. What really matters is – not only to us – but also to the soldiers is the impact their operations have on the civilian society. Let me stress that.
Our soldiers aim at facilitating positive changes in the local civilian society. And they are motivated by the changes they can see in the local area around them. Changes brought by the dangers and hardship they endure alongside their Afghan colleagues.
So success is not measured by how many Talibans are being killed. Our forces measure their success by – for example - the number of parents who again dare to send their children to school.
It is also measured by progress in local and regional employment, progress in economy and progress in the Afghan population taking an active part in the reconstruction and improvement of living conditions in their own areas.
And slowly we are achieving some success in these areas, but we need to do more.
As has already been said, terrorism and extremism cannot be defeated by military means alone. Nor can it be defeated without it. This is why we must send soldiers to Afghanistan.
But our mission is not only a military mission. It is also about reconstruction and reconciliation, development and governance. The military power is only effective as an instrument in making reconstruction and political progress possible.
We must find the right balance between "hard" and "soft" power. There can be no peace without reconstruction, nor can there be any reconstruction without peace or at least some sort of stability and security.
I am often asked for how long we will be engaged in Afghanistan. Well, first and foremost this is being decided by our parliament and our population. But to be honest, I don’t know - but I believe the counterinsurgency will go on for years, maybe even more than a decade.
If we think we can turn the situation in Afghanistan overnight, we are wrong. It takes investment in time, money and resources, and the full commitment of the international community is essential.
If the international community isn't willing to do this, we will not be able to help Afghanistan. But if we put sufficient efforts into this, we can make a difference.
NATO has had success in purely military terms in Afghanistan in the last years. But what we have to do better is to translate military successes into success in governance and development.
I could mention many things to be done and give many proposals, but I shall limit my self to three things:
• Afghanistan and our effort there is a right and necessary cause. But we must be better at carrying the message to our populations.
• We must follow up on our soldiers’ military effort with a corresponding and immediate civilian effort.
• Last but not least we must enhance the Afghans' capacity to establish and maintain their own security. Only when Afghanistan has well functioning security institutions will we be able to scale down our military presence in the country. Here I call – among others – to the EU to step up their effort.
With these last remarks I give the floor back to the chairman.