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Sustained NATO Effort Needed for Long-term Success in Afghanistan

20 December 2007

Sustained NATO Effort Needed for Long-term Success in Afghanistan

Washington -- A moderate, stable Afghanistan is crucial to the United States, its NATO allies and the southwest region of Asia.

To that end, NATO is leading some 40,000 troops from 37 nations under the umbrella of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

It is the first sustained ground deployment by NATO outside of Europe.  NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says it is one of NATO’s most challenging tasks, yet its contribution is critical to international security.

As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, there are 12,000 U.S. forces in Afghanistan to train Afghan security forces and counter the Taliban and drug traffickers at a time when the population faces a growing number of suicide bombings and roadside explosions.

Civil-military provincial reconstruction teams populated by U.S. and coalition forces have been hard at work refurbishing schools so that 5 million children can be educated and fixing up hospitals so that health care can be a reality.  (See related article.)

These and other developments have given rise to cautious optimism among many Afghan observers, but sustained security remains key to that country’s long-term success, especially given a recent increase in violence.

Various European media outlets have opined on the need for more troops to bolster the success Afghanistan has experienced in recent years in overcoming the degradation caused by the Taliban.  The burgeoning Afghan national police force needs more training and money for equipment.

The U.S. Congress approved about $10 billion in security and reconstruction assistance for Afghanistan in fiscal year 2007, including $7.4 billion to accelerate the training and equipping of the Afghan national army and police.

There is also a need for better coordination among those keeping the Taliban in check as well as a long-term requirement for sustained will and stamina to stay the course in Afghanistan.

President Bush has praised personnel contributions by the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark as well as non-NATO member Australia, all of whom are working side by side with U.S. and Afghan forces to counter Taliban insurgents.   Australia has been particularly vocal on the need for NATO to do more in Afghanistan.


But there are other countries that cannot commit their troops to combat because of existing restrictions, or national caveats, on how their troops may be used.  Bush says he understands the situation, but there should be ways compatible with such restrictions in which these countries still could help sustain the mission.  That may involve a more creative approach, with some allies carrying out tasks such as guarding critical infrastructure or funding technological upgrades for helicopters, as a way to meet alliance obligations without upsetting political constituents at home.

The United States, the United Kingdom and NATO have a series of broad Afghan-related reviews and draft proposals under way.   During a December strategy meeting in Scotland, countries involved in Afghanistan agreed to push ahead on an integrated plan that will set goals on a three- to five-year timetable with benchmarks for measuring progress.  It should be ready for presentation at the NATO summit in Romania in April.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says NATO’s Afghan mission has exposed constraints associated with interoperability, organization and critical shortfalls of equipment.

After a recent trip to Kabul in December where he met with European allies who have forces deployed in southern Afghanistan, he told Congress “NATO must adjust to the challenges associated with conducting operations in distant locations.”

Gates said there needs to be better coordination of Afghan assistance, whether it is for security, economic development or follow-on reconstruction purposes.  Promotion of good governance and viable civic institutions are also crucial to a democratic Afghanistan.

During a December visit to NATO headquarters, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasized the need “to share burdens equally in the alliance,” giving balanced attention to military operations and civilian endeavors.

Fixing the shortfalls in airpower and personnel and fulfilling the need for around 3,000 more trainers in Afghanistan are top priorities for those championing that country’s survival.  “I have been urging our allies to commit more troops and resources to the fight and to remove restrictions on the troops they already deploy,” Gates said.

British Defense Secretary Des Browne has added his voice, saying success in Afghanistan “cannot be guaranteed without a concerted push.”

The pressure is on NATO to step up to the challenge because, as Gates put it, progress in Afghanistan “is real, but fragile."

For more information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

An ISAF chronology is available on the NATO Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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