December 14, 2007 / 11:39 AM / 12 years ago

NATO chief backs UK call for realism over Taliban

BERLIN (Reuters) - NATO’s top commander backed on Friday Britain’s call for realism in dealing with the Taliban and said the Afghan government must lead the process.

NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Europe John Craddock addresses a news conference after talks in Berlin, December 14, 2007. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

U.S. General John Craddock, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said he supported Prime Minister Gordon Brown who said this week that Taliban fighters would have a “place in legitimate society” if they laid down their arms.

“I think there is value in a reconciliation process,” Craddock said. “I think that will be a judgment that must be made by the Afghan government. They will decide where the lines are drawn between moderates and extremists.

“We would be supportive of that effort,” Craddock said after meeting German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung.

“Beyond that, I think that it must be transparent and must be open and understood by all the elements that may be affected,” he told reporters.

NATO leads a peacekeeping force of some 40,000 troops battling an insurgency including Taliban, foreign al Qaeda fighters and paid hands. It operates side-by-side with a separate U.S.-led coalition of some 10,000 troops.

Brown, who had held talks in Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai, said realism was needed in tackling the insurgency now nearly six years old even if negotiating directly with the Taliban was not an option.

Craddock said he now believed about 60 percent of Afghanistan had “relatively reasonable security”. NATO is prepared to adjust its military tactics in order to improve coordination with reconstruction and development efforts.

“I think we have to ensure we integrate in a more timely manner the reconstruction and development efforts with the security efforts,” he said, especially in the south and east.

“What we want to be able to do is move to a situation where, together with the development community, we find out where they want to go now and what they want to do.

“And then we must shape our security operations to be supportive of that effort. In the past we have run security operations and then pulled the development in after us.”

Brown told Britain’s parliament Karzai had notified him that 5,000 Taliban fighters had already laid down their arms.

Editing by Robert Woodward

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