Saturday, December 12, 2009

U.S.-NATO: Looking for Common Ground in Afghanistan

U.S.-NATO: Looking for Common Ground in Afghanistan

A good insight to get the whole picture (by an inteview) about the present relationship between the US and all the other NATO participants in Afghanistan. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Robert E. Hunter says that the NATO alliance is under pressure from the United States to increase force levels in Afghanistan. He says that very few European countries believe that prevailing in Afghanistan "is necessary for their own security," but they go along with Washington to keep the United States focused on dealing with possible threats from Russia.

"Everybody in Europe understands that managing the future of Russia in regard to Europe can only be done with American engagement and, yes, to a great extent, American leadership. And they want to keep the United States equally engaged in Europe as a European power, not just as an insurance policy but also as the principal manager of Russia's future."

President Obama in his major speech announced he would send thirty thousand new troops to Afghanistan, but he also said forces would begin to withdraw in July 2011. This was followed by rollback statements from his top aides, saying, "Well, we still may be there for many years." Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, on his way to Afghanistan said, "We are in this thing to win."What does NATO make of all this?

What Obama said is a conditions-based withdrawal. It doesn't give any final dates for actually withdrawing. But that I think it also led to a good deal of confusion in Europe. In the first place, Europeans always complain about the nature of consultations. They always argue that there has never been enough, and that has been true in this case as well. The decision was an American one, which was then given to the Europeans, some of whom have had some role in it, but very few. Some people would argue that they would rather have a fait accompli by the American leadership, thereby relieving them of any responsibility; others would say, "once again the United States is dropping something on us, and expecting us to go along."

How many troops are in Afghanistan now? What about after the new "surge"?

There are two operations in Afghanistan: One is Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), which is almost entirely United States now, and has thirty-six thousand U.S. troops. The other one is the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)--which is the NATO-commanded operation, but U.S. Commander General Stanley McChrystal also commands these forces. ISAF now has about sixty-eight thousand forces from forty-two countries, and with the thirty thousand extra U.S. troops announced by Obama, plus the seven thousand promised by the Allies, there will then be nearly one hundred thousand-plus troops in ISAF, plus the Americans in OEF.

In terms of motivation, very few European countries believe that winning in Afghanistan--that is, dismantling, defeating, and destroying al-Qaeda and Taliban--is necessary for their own security. A few believe that, but most do not. When they add forces, it is to protect the credibility of NATO now that it is there. NATO has never failed at anything it chose to do. Many of these governments wouldn't repeat what they did in 2003 when they sent troops, but that's water over the dam, and they don't want NATO to be damaged by a failure to persevere in Afghanistan.
the rest of the inteview can be read here:

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