Nations limit use of NATO forces

Posted in NATO , Broader Middle East | 29-Sep-06 | Author: Jim Michaels| Source: USA Today

PORTOROZ, Slovenia — Countries sending their troops to Afghanistan have placed a web of restrictions on how they can be used, creating headaches for combat commanders and hurting the coalition's ability to fight a resurgent Taliban.

The restrictions, also called caveats, vary and are imposed by governments who fear casualties or don't agree with all parts of the mission. Other caveats are due to a lack of training or equipment.

The result is some forces can't fight at night or in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.

At a NATO meeting here Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said it's understandable that nations don't want their troops to perform specific missions, but when numerous countries impose restrictions it creates a "situation that really is not acceptable." Rumsfeld and NATO authorities are working to get countries to lift the restrictions.

"It is very difficult for a commander ... when he is not able to move forces around and to have them go where they're needed, when they're needed, to do the things that needed to be done," Rumsfeld said.

"If you sign on to the mission, you should sign on to the whole package," said Canadian Lt. Col. Rejean Duchesneau, a spokesman for NATO's military arm.

Caveats have long been part of multinational military operations. Concerns about them have become more acute, however, as NATO expands its command over coalition forces. Ousted in 2001, the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban militia has regained strength, particularly in the south.

On Thursday, ministers agreed to soon expand NATO command over the remaining eastern part of the country, bringing about 30,000 troops under the alliance, including 12,500 Americans, spread over Afghanistan. There are about 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and some will remain independent of the NATO mission.

Of NATO's 26 countries, only six, including the United States, place no restrictions on the forces they contribute to NATO operations, the Pentagon says.

NATO does not release details about the restrictions for fear they could be exploited by enemy forces. A recent Congressional Research Service study said caveats on German troops mean they "do not go on extended patrols and do not respond to local security events."

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Germany has not dropped its restrictions.

Removing restrictions might reduce the number of troops needed in Afghanistan, since commanders could shift available forces wherever they are needed.

However, eliminating the caveats will be hard, said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "This is the price for having them all there."