Afghanistan: NATO in Crisis
The NATO mission in Afghanistan has been a big topic this week. While the German media was full of concern about providing 250 Bundeswehr soldiers for a Quick Reaction Force (No, I did not forget another zero.), US and Canadian politicians and think tanks sounded alarm over developments in Afghanistan.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has urged his German counterpart in a one-and-a-half-page-long letter to “send an additional 3,200 troops to Afghanistan,” reports the Associated Press. The German press does not mention this number, which would be a doubling of the current German contingent. The media focuses on Grates’ request for Germany to send combat troops to Southern Afghanistan. The answer from all German parties in the Bundestag is basically: “Njet. Forget it.” The Bundestag’s has only authorized the government to send up to 3,500 troops to Afghanistan. And that’s the end of the story in most media outlets.
Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Britain and the US that Canada would withdraw its 2,500 soldiers in Kandahar unless other NATO countries send another 1,000 soldiers to the operation.And there is even more concern, anxiety and pressure: The Atlantic Council of the United States just published the study: Saving Afghanistan: An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action (pdf):
Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan. Unless this reality is understood and action is taken promptly, the future of Afghanistan is bleak, with regional and global impact. The purpose of this paper is to sound the alarm and to propose specific actions that must be taken now if Afghanistan is to succeed in becoming a secure, safe and functioning state.
Also this week, the Afghanistan Study Group of the Center for the Study of the Presidency released the critical report Revitalizing our Efforts, Rethinking our Strategies.
The Christian Science Monitor has a good round-up and writes that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed criticism of the White House approach on Afghanistan.
Victoria Nuland, the US ambassador to NATO, writes in the Washington Post that NATO “is facing the greatest challenge in its 59-year history.”
The alliance that never fired a shot in the Cold War is learning on the job. Just as the Iraq war forced adaptation in American military and development tactics and strategy, the Afghanistan mission is forcing changes in NATO. With each passing month, Canadians, Germans, Poles, Spaniards, Latvians and our other allies learn more about what it takes to wage a 21st-century counterinsurgency — a combined civil-military effort that puts warriors side by side with development workers, diplomats and police trainers. Whether flying helicopters across the desert, embedding trainers with the Afghans, conducting tribal shuras with village elders or running joint civilian-military Provincial Reconstruction Teams, most of our allies are reinventing the way they do business. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates made clear last month, this requires new training, new equipment, a new doctrine and new flexibility in combining civil and military efforts in a truly comprehensive approach to security. The next three to five years will be crucial for the people of Afghanistan, for the NATO alliance and for the community of democracies.
I think this year is crucial for NATO. If 2008 is like 2007, then NATO won’t have much of a future.