One of the main topics of discussion between President George W. Bush and NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer has been Afghanistan. "Afghanistan," said President Bush, "is a vital mission for the United States; it's a vital mission for our allies in Europe, because what happens in Afghanistan matters to the security of our countries."
The U.S. has contributed fifteen-thousand troops to the NATO-led thirty-seven-nation International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. An additional ten-thousand American troops lead a second multinational force that is training well over one-hundred thousand new Afghan soldiers and police officers.
But Taliban insurgents have adopted new tactics deliberately aimed at increasing civilian casualties. They include staging attacks on troops from compounds located in crowded neighborhoods and the use of suicide bombers and roadside bombs. Unlike the Taliban, coalition forces aim to avoid civilian casualties, said President Bush:
"The Taliban likes to surround themselves with innocent civilians. That's part of their modus operandi. They don't mind using human shields because they devalue human life. That's why they're willing to kill innocent people to achieve political objectives."
Nearly one-thousand six-hundred Afghan civilians have been killed in insurgency-related violence so far this year. This has led to protests against Afghan President Hamid Karzai. But both President Bush and NATO Secretary General De Hoop Scheffer urged continued resolve. "Afghanistan," said Mr. De Hoop Scheffer, "is still one of the front lines in our fight against terrorism."
Ultimately, defeating Islamic extremists in Afghanistan requires more than military action. The U.S. and NATO support a long-term strategy to strengthen Afghanistan's democratic institutions and create economic opportunity that will help the young democracy prosper.