NATO's mission and planning for a victory in Afghanistan

Posted in NATO , Broader Middle East | 30-Jan-07 | Author: Benedicte Borel

"Since 2003, NATO has been involved in Afghanistan with 32,000 soldiers from 37 NATO countries and Partners under its command…
"Since 2003, NATO has been involved in Afghanistan with 32,000 soldiers from 37 NATO countries and Partners under its command and there have been 140 deaths among Allied troops."
Why is Afghanistan so crucial for NATO? Why was so much expected of the Riga Summit regarding Afghanistan? Why does the mission in Afghanistan supersede all another current operations and missions of the Alliance? Why is the mission in Afghanistan so complex for the Alliance?

Among the answers: because it is the first operation “out of area” for the Alliance, because of the background and nature of NATO’s involvement; because of constant demands on certain NATO’s Allies by other member countries to provide more troops; because sometimes the mission is perceived as being controversial, even more so since the deaths of civilians in two ISAF air strikes; because of the deaths of soldiers under ISAF command; because out of seven current operations and missions in which NATO is engaged, Afghanistan is currently the only one in which so much has been invested; because at Riga, NATO Allies have formally set up the expansion of ISAF, first to the South and later to the East of the country, the two regions where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have the most power and control of the provinces since 2003 and threaten the Coalition Forces both directly and indirectly, thus causing the Alliance to facing its third challenge - after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the war in the Balkans. Last but not least, for all these reasons the credibility of the Alliance is at stake, NATO must not fail this mission.

Since 2003, NATO has been involved in Afghanistan with 32,000 soldiers from 37 NATO countries and Partners under its command and there have been 140 deaths among Allied troops.

The situation in the country is so deeply complex that discussions on the situation in Afghanistan among the 26 NATO Heads of State and Government have almost concealed other very important Alliance discussions regarding its future transformation and enlargement.

The role of the Alliance is absolutely crucial in Afghanistan and for one key reason: the engagement of NATO is not limited to the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces (as is the mandate of Enduring Freedom). The added value, since NATO took over the command, is based on the fact that NATO provides assistance, advice and training, ensures confidence building, strengthens the role of a democratically elected government, and cooperates in the struggle again narcotics. The success, as well as the greatest difficulty, of the Alliance’s mission is to be involved in two domains: fighting the insurgents while helping the government in the reconstruction of the country and to implement policies to alleviate poverty and rebuild the state. So in the main, contrary to its previous experiences – notably in the Balkans - NATO is facing simultaneously two phases which would normally be undertaken gradually, and consecutively: fighting for peace and ensuring stability by establishing peace. Because of the layout of the country and the role of the Taliban in destabilising security, future peace and security lies in this double engagement.

During the working dinner at the beginning of the summit, by requesting more troops, President George W. Bush raised indirectly another point. A question among Allies still remains: does the success of ISAF remain in more troops and their mandate?

Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister, had already answered this question before the Summit while he was visiting British troops posted in Afghanistan: “Now is the time, with the Riga Summit coming up, for NATO to bring into sharp focus the need for us to stay with the Afghans in their journey of progress and rediscover within ourselves the belief and the vision that took us.”

In line with their agenda, close to Transatlantic foreign policies, Bucharest and Warsaw declared before the Summit that they would send 1,100 and 300 additional soldiers respectively by January 2007. Slovakia and the United Kingdom are also planning to send more troops.

According to other NATO Allies such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain – who answered negatively to this troop request - the mission of NATO in Afghanistan should be approached in a different way. In other words, is this requirement really relevant? ISAF’s mandate is not the same as Enduring Freedom even if in the end, their objective remains the same.

Allies are aware that peace cannot be brought about by fighting insurgents. This struggle has to come with other factors intrinsically linked to peace, stability and security which are notably reconstruction, confidence–building, and poverty alleviation. That is why the Riga Summit has also highlighted the necessity of further discussions and cooperation between NATO’s Allies, NATO’s Partners, and Afghanistan. Effectively, on 2 November 2006, a joint press point bringing together key actors involved in the process of bringing back security, stability and peace in Afghanistan was held.

Importance of multilateral actions

By organising this so-called joint press point which could be seen as an additional conference on Afghanistan, NATO demonstrated its willingness to carry out its mission, and once again highlighted that such operations can be well conducted through cooperation with other partners such as international organisations and NGOs working at different stages of reconstruction.

By bringing the suggestion to establish a Contact Group dedicated to Afghanistan like the existing Contact Group for Kosovo or the Group of Minsk, President Chirac echoed in a certain sense this joint press point but he certainly took into account lessons learnt from Kosovo.

By inviting International Organisations, as NATO did to the joint press point together with the countries involved, Paris argues that it could help the Alliance to reach its objectives.

By proposing to include Afghan neighbours that are deeply linked to the ongoing process of stabilisation and reconstruction such as Iran, Jacques Chirac has no doubt increased tensions with his homologue George W. Bush. However he has certainly highlighted the fact that so complex a crisis as Afghanistan cannot be resolved without taking account of the regional environment.

By adopting such a proposition, NATO’s Allies are certainly on the same wavelength as the political dialogue of the previous Brussels NATO Summit (February 2005).

"NATO Allies discussed a new assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. General Craddock called for a Combined Joint Statement of…
"NATO Allies discussed a new assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. General Craddock called for a Combined Joint Statement of Requirements. In parallel, he recalled that NATO Allies should equip better their troops."
NATO’s achievements so far

As at the end of October 2006, there were 1,113 ongoing projects under the umbrella of ISAF.

Regarding Afghan National Security Forces, over 35,000 personnel have been assigned to the total force structure and over 42,000 personnel to the Afghan National Police.

ISAF has also provided direct and technical assessment as well as planning support to the Ministry of Transport by delivering three national and seven regional airfields.

NATO is also involved in education and healthcare. Between 43,000 and 45,000 teachers are being trained and about 1,000 schools were built or opened in 2006; this despite the increasing number of attacks over the last two years (up by 62 %). Today, about 83% of the population have access to the healthcare system. In addition, three basic health centres, a comprehensive health centre, and a district hospital have been established. This opens health services to about 200,000 people.

NATO provides assistance in the destruction of mines (88,136 anti-personnel mines have been destroyed as well as 11,254 anti-tank mines).

Regarding the struggle against Afghan drugs, a pilot project on counter-narcotics training for Afghan and Central Asian personnel has been taken in the framework of the NATO Russia Council at Foreign Ministers level (8 December 2005). The first mobile training course in the cooperation of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime with Afghan officers was held in December 2006 in Dushanbe. Recently, thanks to the contribution of Luxemburg, five new courses are planned for the first semester of this year and a second mobile training team session will be held.

Finally, 1,743 km of the ring road network have been asphalted - this represents 52% of the total 3,256 km of roads - and 2,743 km (82%) of the network is now open to traffic.

Afghanistan after Riga

Although decisions taken on Afghanistan by the Heads of State and Government at the Riga Summit were seen as a decisive step in that they provided new recommendations and extended ISAF’s mandate, they were nonetheless only a first step. The recommendations will need to be implemented.

After Riga, other important events at NATO have, or are just about to take place:

  • The meetings at NATO HQ with the US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates and the UN Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon (appointed on 15 and 24 January respectively). On 30 January, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz came to NATO HQ. He agreed with NATO Allied Representatives that the operation in Afghanistan needs a political and military approach as well as economic elements.

  • Less than three months after the Summit in Latvia, a North Atlantic Council at Foreign Ministers level took place in Brussels on 26 January on two key missions: Kosovo and Afghanistan. A special North Atlantic Council in Foreign Ministers session in ISAF format with Afghanistan and non-NATO contributors was held.

    This NAC was distinguishable from the Riga Summit and yet it echoed the Joint Press Conference held in October 2006. At the meeting, the US requested two tasks of NATO Allies: first, the request made at the Riga Summit to send more troops was reiterated; secondly, help for the counter narcotic campaign.

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice highlighted the need to take advantage of the spring thaw in coming months to launch a new onslaught against Taliban position: “if there is to be a ’spring offensive’, it must be our offensive”. In recent years, the Taliban has always started an offensive in the Spring. The NATO Secretary General, at the press conference which followed the North Atlantic Council, declined to give details of additional contributions. Similarly, concerning the fight against Afghan narcotics, he made no comment about how the Alliance could improve its cooperation.

    Also at the request of the US, the European Union finally agreed to offer financial assistance to Afghanistan. Approximately 600 million Euros will be committed for the period between 2007 and 2010, targeting the legal system, health and rural development; in particular by developing alternatives to opium cultivation. During the meeting, the Italian Foreign Minister D’Alema raised the possibility of holding an international conference on Afghanistan. This issue has not been confirmed.

    NATO Allied Representatives agreed to increase aid and civilian personnel so as to accelerate the reconstruction. Allies, as well as non–NATO countries (e.g. South Korea, Japan, Australia), recalled the necessity to boost cooperation between military and civilian.

  • An informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers took place in Seville, Spain, on 8-9 February. Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak attended this meeting as well as General John Craddock who recently took over the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. Afghanistan was on the agenda as well as Kosovo, relations with Partners and transformation.

    Regarding Afghanistan, it is important to stress that this meeting was not a force generation conference. Unlike other previous NATO meetings at different levels, the goal of Seville’s meeting was to compel the member nations to keep the promises NATO Allies had already made for the operation in Afghanistan rather than obtain new promises of troops and equipment.

    NATO Allies discussed a new assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. General Craddock called for a Combined Joint Statement of Requirements. In parallel, he recalled that NATO Allies should equip better their troops. This recalls what General David J. Richards, the previous NATO commander in Afghanistan, said last month. Unmet pledges of troops and equipment from NATO countries left him 10 to 15 % short of the forces he needed.

    NATO Allies agreed that, in the framework of a comprehensive international approach, they would support the Afghan Government and the reconstruction and development of the country with a “robust military presence”. According to the American Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, it would help to counter narcotics and build the economy. On that point, he also reaffirmed that he would extend for 120 days the tour of a brigade of Army troops and Washington’s promise of $ 8.6 billion for Afghanistan’s security forces and $ 2 billion more for economic development.

    But national contributions are still a sensitive issue for NATO Allies: “I do not think it is right to talk about more and more military means” said Franz-Josef Jung, the German Defense Minister.

"In this operation, the Alliance has always considered the UN and EU as actors of second rank. For Afghanistan, NATO…
"In this operation, the Alliance has always considered the UN and EU as actors of second rank. For Afghanistan, NATO Allies should cooperate and coordinate better with these organisations."
Upcoming meetings and events focusing on Afghanistan would need to take into account some important issues:

  • Long and porous borders allow Taliban fighters to go from Pakistan to Afghanistan.

    On 11 January, NATO and the Afghan National Army (ANA) jointly killed 150 rebels. According to ISAF reports, the rebels would have been discovered while they were still in Pakistani territory. This mission was successfully conducted both by air and ground forces.

    A solution to porous borders would be to develop a specific unit in charge of border security. In such missions, either NATO could take the lead and allow countries with experience in conducting these types of missions to provide expertise; or the countries with sufficient expertise, for instance Canada, Germany and the US, could take the lead and train the Afghans. Other organisations, such as the OSCE and the UN, should also be involved and share their field experience (for example OSCE border security on the Georgian border with Chechnya or UN expertise in Cyprus or Lebanon)

    Pakistan raised the problem of porous borders at the beginning of January 2007. According to Islamabad, putting mines along the Pakistani-Afghan border could solve this problem. This solution would be disastrous: it would mean approximately 2,500 kilometres of mines in a country which is already full of mines from the previous war and the current one. It would take years to eradicate the mines, even with international assistance.

    At the World Economic Forum, the Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz mentioned that he is considering putting into place a system of biometric passports for the local population living close to the Afghan border. It would make control of the Taliban’s movements easier. But is such a solution possible?

    Afghan men could be employed to serve their country, and would help defend their territorial sovereignty. In the long term, air and ground forces would best deal with this issue. Creating these forces, including an air border force, would be a sustainable solution to border control. This is not only true for the Afghan-Pakistani border, but also for the Afghan-Iranian border. Tehran is increasingly confronted with drug trafficking from Afghanistan. A border control unit would at least reduce trafficking and smuggling across borders.

  • Security of refugee camps should be taken into account: the Taliban make use of poor conditions in the refugee camps to recruit their forces. Securing the camps would make it more difficult for the Taliban to recruit new members. Secondly, it may prevent bomb attacks such as those of 16 January during which two people died.

  • The issue of tribes should also be taken into account: the recent attack in Pakistan against the army was a clear signal of the strong link between Pakistani tribes who support Islamist insurgents in Afghanistan. Experts such as John Negroponte or F. Grace from the Carnegie Center Endowment for International Peace are confident that Al Qaeda leaders are in Pakistan - more precisely at the Hindu Kush region. Could political and economic sanctions oblige Islamabad to react?

  • Efforts need to be made to improve NATO/ ISAF’s public image. Incidents involving civilian casualties should not be the only press coverage on ISAF. This point is very important for ISAF, who faces the local population day to day.

  • NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers will meet in June. By then the Alliance should come up with concrete suggestions to implement Riga’s main issues. For example, today no concrete position has been developed to set up the Contact Group’s suggestions. On this point, NATO should take into account lessons learned from its experience in Kosovo. In this operation, the Alliance has always considered the UN and EU as actors of second rank. For Afghanistan, NATO Allies should cooperate and coordinate better with these organisations. Prior to considering an exit strategy and thinking about the handover to EU or UN, NATO should not consider these two organisations as auxiliary.

  • Continue making efforts to involve neighbouring countries. NATO Heads of State and Government agreed, at Riga, to involve Afghanistan’s neighbours. Efforts in that direction need to be more effective.

  • Other domains, such as reconstruction and economy, should also be considered. However, these are domains where NATO has no expertise. Therefore other international fora should be encouraged to take the lead and pursue their efforts (World Bank, UN). Shaukat Aziz also noted that establishing a Marshall plan would solve the economic problem of Afghanistan and would definitely help the reconstruction of the country.

    Whilst political dialogue and consultation are definitely important, at some stage, recommendations must be put into action and concrete suggestions must be brought forward. Looking ahead, the Alliance will need to continue implementing the recommendations made at Riga. In doing so, it will need the increased support of other international organisations, in particular the UN and the EU.

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