WASHINGTON -- NATO's top military officer met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace here June 30.
"We had a very good discussion of a very important time leading up to the parliamentary elections," U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones said. Jones is NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe and also heads U.S. European Command.
The discussion touched on a number of topics, including NATO's expansion within the country, the development of Afghan security forces, security for the upcoming elections, and the eventual merger of Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force.
ISAF, working closely with the Afghan ministries, authorities, local communities and the coalition forces of Operation Enduring Freedom, carries out regular patrols in the northern and western portions of the country. ISAF also has command of provincial reconstruction teams in those areas.
The merger of OEF and ISAF, Jones said, will happen at the right time.
"We are making good progress in bringing the synergy of the two missions - OEF and ISAF - under one unified command at the correct time," he said. "General (Ethem) Erdagi has been a tremendous voice of reason and leadership in helping bring this about, and I think the path to the future - the path to our future collectively with the Afghan security forces, OEF and ISAF - is very positive as we enter this very important timeframe heading up to the parliamentary elections." Erdagi, a Turkish general, is ISAF's commander.
Jones said he sees a growing commitment to NATO expansion into the southern portion of the country, being planned for the spring-to-summer timeframe in 2006. "The evidence supports the growing international presence, the number of countries that have signaled an interest in either establishing a PRT or sending forces that can continue NATO's expansion," he said.
With parliamentary elections slated for September, security also was part of the discussion. NATO has confirmed that Romania, Spain, the Netherlands, the United States, Italy and Austria will contribute a combined total of three battalions, four companies and a platoon for election security, Jones said. Those added troops would bring ISAF's total troop strength to nearly 11,000, up from about 8,500 currently.
Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who joined Jones on behalf of Karzai at a news conference after the meeting, said the government is very positive about the security of the elections. This, he said, is based partially on the successful Afghan presidential elections of 2004.
"The last time when there was an election, there were worries by the international community and you are all witness that everything went so well," Wardak said. "This time ... NATO and the coalition are going to deploy more troops and we also have the experience of the last election.
"We are also going to augment our security arrangement and make more preparations and be more on alert in this coming two and a half months ... up to the election," he said.
Jones said he was pleased with the discussion with Karzai and the way things were proceeding in each of the areas he and the president spoke about.
"I'm happy to be able to go back to Brussels and give my report to the (NATO) secretary-general to the effect that things are moving in a positive way," Jones said.