Exclusive Worldsecuritynetwork interview with COMISAF Lieutenant General Rick Hillier

Posted in Broader Middle East | 28-May-04 | Author: Konrad Freytag

It is a short 50-minute flight to Kabul International Airport. The airport operation is in German hands. In addition to the German air force flights there are UN airplanes and a few aircraft from Afghanistan’s airline Ariana.

COMISAF; Lieutenant General Rick Hillier: "We make progress - step by step".
Kabul looks awful – the old city in ruins, the government quarters and the king’s palace destroyed, the national museum a wreck.

The sewerage system with open canals is a cloaca, electricity outages happen every day. Goatherds are grazing next to the ISAF compound. However, there is intense traffic on the roads; an unbelievable number of yellow cabs transport busy men to their destinations, sometimes confronted with armoured, on-duty ISAF vehicles. The streets suffocate in traffic and smog, the bazaars are overcrowded.

All the important agencies are present: the UN Mission to Afghanistan, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the OEF coalition headquarters, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the World Bank, etc. The Afghan ministries of Justice, Finances, Foreign Affairs, and Interior Affairs have been rebuilt. The Presidential Palace is heavily guarded and secured, as is the Italian Embassy with its special permanent guest, former King Zahir Shah. The ISAF troops live in big camps on the outskirts of Kabul from where they carry out the mission. They are omnipresent in town.

My meeting with Lieutenant General Rick Hillier of the Canadian Army took place at ISAF Headquarters in the center of Kabul.

Question: When did you take over command?

Lieutenant General Hillier: The Commander-in-Chief of NATO’s Allied Forces Northern Europe, General Gerhard Back, German Air Force, assigned the mission to me in February 2004, here in Kabul. I am the fifth ISAF commander. As you know, the first ISAF mission was commanded by the United Kingdom, followed by a Turkish Army General; ISAF III was done by the Dutch/German Corps. NATO assumed command with ISAF IV for the first time. I am the 2nd commander wearing a NATO “hat”.

Question: Is this a special mission for you?

Lieutenant General Hillier: Well, if you mean whether it would be my first such NATO job then the answer is “no”. I also commanded a NATO force in the Balkans. But when we view it geographically ISAF is the Alliance’s first-ever mission outside the Euro-Atlantic area and, of course, this makes it special. I find it very demanding, since the NATO involvement demonstrates the alliance nations’ continuing long-term commitment to stability and security for the Afghan people.


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