Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Trouble in Afghanistan: Wither NATO?

Posted by K.E. White on February 10, 2008

The Canadian-led NATO mission in Afghanistan has run into some considerable trouble.

Canada called for more troops from NATO partners, even threatening to pull out if their request went unanswered.

While Germany has softened its opposition to granting more troops, the United States has increased diplomatic pressure on NATO allies to solve the Afghan dilemma.

Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Defense Secretary Robert Gates openly pressed NATO members to send more troops to Afghanistan.

From the New York Times:

After weeks of calling on NATO governments to send more combat troops and trainers to Afghanistan, Mr. Gates made his case directly to people across the continent in a keynote address to an international security conference here. Mr. Gates summoned the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, to say that Europe is at risk of becoming victim to attacks of the same enormity.

“I am concerned that many people on this continent may not comprehend the magnitude of the direct threat to European security,” Mr. Gates said. “For the United States, Sept. 11 was a galvanizing event one that opened the American public’s eyes to dangers from distant lands.”

In a hall filled with government officials, lawmakers and policy analysts from around the world, Mr. Gates added: “So now I would like to add my voice to those of many allied leaders on the continent and speak directly to the people of Europe. The threat posed by violent Islamic extremism is real and it is not going to go away.”

While Iraq dominates headlines in America, Afghanistan remains a vital front in the war on terror. The Afghan-Pakistan border still stands as a critical hotbed of extremist activity.

But getting more troops from war-weary allies is no easy task. France has elevated political success over military success in Afghanistan; Australia refuses to send more troops; and Merkel faces stern opposition to any German troop increase.

From AFP:

According to an opinion poll due to be published in Monday’s edition of the magazine Focus, 84 percent of Germans oppose sending combat troops to the south.

And 63 percent believe the current deployment in northern Afghanistan does not serve German interests, according to the TNS Emnid poll.

Germany, whose troop level deployment in Afghanistan currently stands at about 3,200, earlier this week announced it would take over responsibility from Norway in July for a quick reaction force in the north of the country.

The Sunday Herald—a Scottish newspaper—illustrates just how high the stakes are for NATO in Afghanistan:

The problem is that Nato is not geared up to that kind of thinking, even though it is beginning to concentrate on training the Afghans to take over responsibility for their own security. The alliance was formed to defend the West against attack from the Soviet Union. During that time it never fired a shot in anger, and now it has been tasked to fight what many believe is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Afghanistan is still considered by the security community as the make-or-break mission for Nato, and the urgency of the situation cannot be overstated,” argues Kate Clouston, an associate of the Royal United Services Institute, in a paper on the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan for the independent think tank. “Substantial reform by Nato allies is needed now if the alliance is ever going to be ready to hand over control of the currently unsecured provinces to Afghan national forces.”

The British publication Telegraph has a detailed article on John McCain’s foreign policy, in particular his views on Afghanistan:

A future President McCain would be expected to win favour with European governments critical of the Bush administration’s approach to combating Islamic extremism, by closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in the first weeks of his presidency and declaring that the US will no longer tolerate torture.

British and American pressure on Germany appeared to bear fruit yesterday when it emerged the German government might send an extra 1,000 troops to Afghanistan. But Mr McCain will continue to work to broaden its restrictive rules of engagement.

The Afghanistan offensive will form a major plank of Mr McCain’s outreach to the world, as he battles to win over conservatives in his party.

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