By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA, July 2 (Reuters) - U.S. allies in NATO must provide better equipment and drop many restrictions on how their forces are used to help defeat Afghanistan’s resilient Taliban insurgency, the alliance’s supreme commander said on Wednesday.
General John Craddock said additions to the 50,000-strong NATO-led contingent would be welcome but improved hardware and more flexible fighting rules were key to turning the tide of chronic conflict plaguing the nation.
"Too often, forces there now are relatively fixed because we don’t have adequate tactical mobility to move them around to be able to do the jobs we need them to do," he said.
Craddock said NATO was short of helicopters and other aircraft to whisk troops to wherever they needed to confront a fluid enemy exploiting chaos along porous borders with Pakistan.
More unmanned surveillance aircraft, intelligence and medical support units were also a priority, he told reporters on the fringes of a security debate by the 56-nation Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna.
"We need substantial numbers (of helicopters). Because we don’t have them we have had to lease them from commercial (suppliers). That’s not something we want to do when we know the capacity is resident in the nations that are participating."
Craddock said NATO’s capabilities were also hamstrung by "78-80 caveats" imposed by contributor nations that restrict where their troops can be deployed or their range of tasks.
"The first thing we’d like to see is a reduction in these caveats, with the objective of elimination."
Craddock did not name names of NATO allies he had in mind.
ONLY SOME NATO MEMBERS IN COMBAT
U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch groops have shouldered much of the fighting in south and east Afghanistan, while other NATO members, notably Germany and France, have resisted U.S. pressure to operate outside the country’s relatively safe north.
Craddock welcomed what he said was recent French steps to shift forces to eastern Afghanistan, which faces Pakistan.
But he said he had had no takers to requests for contributions to replace 2,000 U.S. Marines due to end their deployment in south Afghanistan in November.
Craddock said Pakistan must do more to reassert control over militant- and tribe-dominated regions along its frontier with Afghanistan, saying anarchy spurred a 41 percent rise in fighting with insurgents there this spring.
"The change in Pakistan border conditions has changed the environment. We’re going to have to respond," he said.
In a speech to the 56-nation OSCE, about half of whose members belong to NATO, Craddock said only "uneven" progress was being made to pacify and develop Afghanistan.
"The situation is complex ... The nature of our adversaries, the border areas, the narcotics trade, governmental corruption and a less than cohesive effort by the international community all contribute to that complexity," he said.
"Quite frankly, the current anti-narcotics effort is ineffective... It is a cancer fuelling corruption and the insurgency," said Craddock.
He said criminality and incompetence in the Afghan police posed a major obstacle to creating credible state authority in south and east Afghanistan, and called for OSCE training projects like those that helped stabilise Kosovo and Georgia.