From the Online Journalism Blog: At the start of this week, Dave Cole of the Atlantic Council of the UK organised the first visit to NATO Headquarters for bloggers.

The visit was under the auspices of Dr. Stephanie Babst, NATO’s Assistant Deputy Secretary General for Public Diplomacy.

From the Liberal Conspiracy: Most of the briefings were off-the-record, although the group of bloggers were able to question and discuss NATO operations with Brigadier General Eric Tremblay – spokesperson for ISAF, the force responsible for securing Afghanistan.

Also high on the list was a discussion of NATO’s ongoing re-evaluation of its Strategic Concept document.

From Luke Akehurst: The centre of the NATO effort is “to protect the Afghans” both from the Taliban (counter-insurgency) and by “removing malign influences at the local level” e.g. grossly corrupt officials, narco-traffickers…

76% of Afghans live in rural areas and 75% are under 25 years old.

The NATO deployment is “population-centric”; aimed at protecting centres of population and the transport, water and power infrastructure that they depend on. It extends a lot further than the city centres only image portrayed in the press.

The idea is to deliver an alternative model of governance and development to the one offered by the Taliban so the Afghan people can decide which of the two paths they want to follow. In the cities people can already see the public services and other benefits of having a central government. In the rural areas, some people live so remotely from Kabul they may not even know there is a government yet. The “security bubble” has yet to reach all communities.

BBC polling shows 85% of Afghans don’t want the Taliban back. Polling by the Asia Foundation shows only 5% support the Taliban, 70% support the presence of Western troops…

Already 1/3 to 1/2 of security operations are Afghan-led with NATO just in a supporting role.

From the New Statesman: Tremblay is a straight-shooter and refreshingly blunt and honest. I put to him the allegations in a recent Nation piece by Aram Roston and reprinted in the Guardian on 13 November. Do the US military’s contractors pay suspected insurgents to protect Nato/Isaf supply routes into Afghanistan? Is the US government funding the very forces American (and British) troops are fighting? Roston quoted a US army spokesman, who said that international forces were “aware of allegations that procurement funds may find their way into the hands of insurgent groups, but we do not directly support or condone this activity, if it is occurring”. But, here’s Tremblay, speaking yesterday:

Afghanistan is vast and landlocked… but, at the end, what the [Isaf-contracted] suppliers need to do to get the material [into the country] is… their responsibility. We don’t dig too deep.

So are Isaf forces and, by extension, the governments of the US, Britain, Canada, etc, funding the Taliban, I asked?

We could be.

From Left Foot Forward: Training Afghan troops, the risk of troops leaving before the job is done, and falling public opinion were cited as the main challenges. “We all recognise that public support is declining; progress is not nearly as quick as anyone would like; and the last year has been a reversal,” said [NATO spokesman James] Appathurai, “but the Secretary-General believes that people understand why we are there”.

Answering questions about Obama’s announcement last week that troops would begin being withdrawn in the middle of 2011, Appathurai said:

“We won’t bugger off. We’ll transition to a support role.” (photo: NATO)