Reports from Bratislava, Slovakia, today indicate NATO defense ministers support Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s recommendations to increase counterinsurgency strategy, nation building and additional troops in Afghanistan.
Easy for them to say. More than two-thirds of the 28-country NATO forces totalling 104,000 troops are American and far less than those one-third are involved in combat operations.
The ministers did not discuss the number of additional troops expected. Reports claim McChrystal wants 80,000 but would settle for 40,000 additional U.S. troops.
Also, the ministers face a hard sell in some of their home countries. According to a CBS report today:
Dutch Defence Minister Eimert Van Middelkoop said his country is awaiting the final election results in Afghanistan Nov. 7 before deciding whether to augment its 2,160 troops in Afghanistan.
Danish Defence Minister Soeren Gade said allies won’t increase troop levels until they’re assured the new government in Kabul is committed to the NATO goals.
Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung of Germany said he also doesn’t expect his country to increase its 4,200 troop numbers in Afghanistan when the soldiers’ mandate from the German parliament comes up for renewal in December.
Britain has pledged 500 additional troops on a series of conditions.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has maintained that Canada will pull its troops out of Afghanistan by 2011.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who is attending the meeting, has said he does not expect Canada will be asked to send more troops or extend its mission beyond 2011.
“Everyone agreed that the plusing up of the American [troops] was going to be a critical component part and that ongoing counter-insurgency efforts would have to continue,” he told CBC News in a phone interview Friday.
“So it was a question of resolve and a question that everyone is waiting to have answered is what will the Obama administration do in the final analysis, and we’ll go from there.”
Much of the role non-U.S. NATO forces and civilians play in Afghanistan is security such as protecting fuel and weapons depots. One incident and possibly another reflects the ineptness of those forces when it comes to fighting the insurgents.
A German commander called in an aerial attack on a hijacked fuel tanker last month killing seven civilians. The Italians were accused by a London newspaper of paying locals to perform their security operations in an Afghan province, a report denied by the Italian government.
NATO’s mandate in Afghanistan is spelled out on its website. The report does not differentiate by nation the activities assigned.
Since NATO took command of the UN- mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2003, the Alliance has gradually expanded the reach of its mission, originally limited to Kabul, to cover Afghanistan’s whole territory. The number of ISAF troops has grown accordingly from the initial 5,000 to around 50,000 troops coming from 42 countries, including all 28 NATO members. ISAF is a key component of the international community’s engagement in Afghanistan, assisting the Afghan authorities in providing security and stability and creating the conditions for reconstruction and development.
Among its tasks is training and equipping the Afghan police and military. In 2006 it established a “quick humanitarian” assistance program for food, shelter, medicine and repair of buildings and bridges. NATO members also are assigned to combat illicit trafficking from Afghanistan’s largest gross national product — heroin.
The Provincial Reconstruction Teams help build institutions within the government to “fully establish good governance and the rule of law.”
Certainly, the role our allies are performing in Afghanistan is helpful but the vast majority are not putting their lives in harm’s way as U.S. troops carry the brunt of the combat mission.
At the NATO defense minister’s meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both.”
Gates squashed a proposal by Vice President Joe Biden that the U.S. pull out most or all of its troops. “We’re not pulling out,” Gates said. “I think that any reduction is very unlikely.”
Biden represents one view point in the Obama administration in which a counterterrorism strategy focuses more on capturing and killing terrorists linked to Al Qaeda than what McChrystal and the foreign ministers were discussing.
President Obama is expected to announce his troop decision on or before the Nov. 7 Afghan election.
Would someone explain to me how a second election would produce a government we can trust? That seems to me why former Vice President Dick Cheney calls Obama “dithering” for reevaluating his Afghan strategy announced in March.
Jerry Remmers worked 26 years in the newspaper business. His last 23 years was with the Evening Tribune in San Diego where assignments included reporter, assistant city editor, county and politics editor.