NATO's Top Commander Dismisses Taliban Threat

NATO's commander said Tuesday the military alliance "will win every battle against the Taliban."

U.S. Gen. James L. Jones also said the success of reconstruction and development projects were key to stabilizing Afghanistan, along with economic, judicial and police reforms.

"Militarily, I am not concerned about the Taliban," Jones said during a visit to Hungary. "We will win every battle against the Taliban."

Jones recently appealed for up to 2,500 extra troops to pursue the fight against the Taliban in the south. On Tuesday, NATO officials in Brussels said a Polish decision to speed up the deployment of around 900 soldiers to Afghanistan went "a significant way" to meeting the call for more troops.

But Jones emphasized that the exit strategy from Afghanistan would succeed only if the military success was matched with social development.

"I believe there is a clear exit strategy for Afghanistan," Jones said, without mentioning a timetable. "But the overall strategy for Afghanistan will come to fruition much more effectively if we focus on ... police reform, judicial reform, the battle against corruption, an attack on the counter-narcotics and economic reforms for the country."

Among the gains, Jones said almost 1,900 miles of roads had been built, nearly six million students — including two million girls — were going to school, and around 80 percent of Afghans had some access to health care.

"Clearly there is some good progress," Jones said.

Asked about reports that the U.S. military leaders were asking for a higher defense budget, Jones said that the request was not a surprise to civilians at the Pentagon.

"This is a difficult time for the United States to be engaged in so many parts of the world and trying to do so many things simultaneously," Jones said after meeting with Gen. Andras Havril, the Hungarian military's chief of staff.

The U.S. Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, took the highly unusual step in August of delaying submission of the Army's budget plan, arguing that the service requires either a much bigger budget than the administration has proposed or relief from some of its worldwide commitments.

The Los Angeles Times reported in its Monday editions that Schoomaker is seeking US$138.8 billion for 2008, or nearly US$25 billion more than the limit originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is US$98 billion.

Jones added that the military took an oath of office to "tell the truth as we understand it, so there are times when it becomes necessary to take a stand.

"I think Gen. Schoomaker has taken a stand that he thinks is right ... but there is also a political process that was not surprised by this despite the sensational headlines."

Some 180 Hungarian troops will take over command of a provincial reconstruction team in the northern Afghan province of Baghlan next month.