Saturday, January 19, 2008

No knowledge of whereabouts of Osama bin Laden: NATO

Osama bin Laden remains as elusive today as he was at thestart of US-led NATO operations in Afghanistan six years ago.“We have no knowledge of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden,” said Brigadier General Rodney Anderson, the Deputy Commander General for Support for Regional Command East in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Speaking to Brussels-based journalists during a video teleconference, General Anderson elaborated on the mountainousTora Bora area from where bin Laden was supposed to have escaped years ago, “In the Tora Bora area the Afghan NationalArmy has recently partnered with coalition forces, conductedsome operations in the area. There are still Afghan National Army forces in the area. And this is all to provide a level of safety and security for the people of the province of Nangarhar. But there were really no major operations, so to speak, conducted there over the last several months.”

With the recent assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and a spate of terrorist attacks across the country, the situation in the key state of Islamic Republic of Pakistan seems to have gone from bad to worse.

Although the NATO commander hesitated “to speculate on what is essentiallya political matter in Pakistan,” the General did call the FATA, the Federal Administered Tribal Area a challenge saying,“We recognise it as a challenge and the Pakistan military has responsibility for that area. We do not conduct any operationsor the like across the border.”

Confirming good communication across the border, “There are no disagreements that I am aware of between the Pakistan’s military and the coalition forces’ military as it relates to the border,” Anderson ruled out direct NATO action there saying, “We have no plans, no intentions, no instructions, noauthority to cross the border to conduct any sort of operations inside Pakistan.”

There have been repeated attacks on Pakistani army in thatarea and according to reports there is no tangible authority of the Pakistani government there. With such a hostile climate across the safe havens for the resurgent Taliban in the Western Pakistan where insurgents are able to regroup and attack NATO groups while the government of Hamid Karzai is struggling to keep them at bay, there is a humanitarian face of NATO, silent but steady at work in rebuilding Afghanistan.

The decade-long brutal Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989 decayed the fragile economy and damaged the fabrics of Afghan society that it may take years and billions in aid to bring some kind of normalcy.

NATO Brigadier General Anderson went to great lengths explaining the significant progress guided by “a single unifying strategy, the Afghan National Development Strategy or ANDS.” Giving the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan credit to keep Afghanistan on path to progress, Anderson stressed the link between development and security situationsaying, “as they move forward there will be an increase in capability and capacity of the police and the army and likewise in the reduction in poverty, in the improvement in universal primaryeducation, gender equity and all of the other aspects of the Millennial Development Goals.”

He listed some statistical data like, “Schools have increased from 1,000 to 9,000 in the last years... in the area of health care, basic health care access has increased from eight percent six years ago, to 78 percent today ... In the area of roads, the Ring Road is 100 percent complete in Regional Command East and 73 percent paved around the country.”

Queried about the reliability of these data, the General told journalists, “The figures that we’re using are with inputs fromthe ministries, but from independent assessments that have been done and indicators from several different sources. And so we are fairly comfortable that we have not over-inflated the figures that I gave you.”

Outlining the NATO role as “just to assist where there’s a lack of knowledge of what government program might be available,” the General said, “Each province in Regional Command East has a PRT, a Provincial Reconstruction Team, and it is one of their responsibilities to assist the Provincial Development Council and the District Development Assembly and just partner with the entire development and governance framework at the provincial level... Every project completed is another step forward. This progress will not happen overnight, but Afghanistan, with international help, can meet the UN’s Millennial Development Goals.”