NATOs unfamiliar role, Afghanistan’s familiar situation – Central Asia-Caucasus Institute


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NATOs 2006 Summit takes place in Riga on November 28-29, when the military alliance will discuss its increasingly globalised commitments.Topping the agenda will be the newly-aggressive role undertaken by NATO in recent months to confront insurgency in Afghanistan, devastated by constant civil and international conflict for almost three decades. Now increased opium production, cross-border Taliban infiltration from Pakistan, and slow reconstruction threatens to reverse gains made in Afghanistan since 2001.

Testifying before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2006, NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Jones said that the greatest challenge facing the organisation today is its expansion across Afghanistan. NATO has commanded the UN Security Council-mandated International Security Assistance force (ISAF) since 2003, Operating under a peace-enforcement Chapter VII mandate, ISAF seeks ultimately to enable the Afghan Government assume full responsibility for internal and border security.

NATOs Article 5, or collective defence provision, was invoked on 12/9/01, a day after the al-Qaeda attacks on the US. Although NATO was conceived as a Cold War anti-Soviet alliance focused on Europe, the Prague Summit of 2002 signaled member states’ increasing recognition of a changing security environment and the need for NATO to adopt a more flexible operational and geographic ‘out of area’ profile. NATO has since provided logistical support to the African Union Mission in Darfur, Sudan, and worked in a humanitarian role after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. Until July 2006, its role in Afghanistan was mainly focused on Provincial Reconstruction teams (PRTs), a civilian-military development and security collaboration undertaken by US-led coalition forces prior to NATOs arrival and expansion from Kabul. There are now 25 NATO-led PRTs, operating from the premise that security means more than mere military policy.

Afghanistan has undergone massive civilian displacement and casualties, material destruction, and foreign infiltration and intervention, dating back to the USSR invasion in 1979. The security and development challenges facing ISAF, donors and the Afghan Government are daunting.

In January 2006, the Afghanistan Compact set security, development and reconstruction targets until 2011. However Afghanistan ranks 173 out of 178 countries in the UN development indicators and its Millennium Development Goal indicators are below the majority of sub-Saharan African countries.

The Afghan government has committed itself to creating a professional and ethnically balanced Afghan national Army (ANA) of 70,000 men by 2010. The ANA is about 30,000 strong and is deemed one of Afghanistan’s reconstruction success stories. NATO is capacity-building the ANA with Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLTs). However there remains over 1800 non-state armed groups comprising over 125,000 members active across Afghanistan, although not all of these are a direct threat to NATO forces or the ANA.Warlords, affiliates and clients predominate in the Afghan police.

While GDP growth has been around 15% per annum since 2001, this is from an extremely low base. 80% of Afghans live in poverty and one in four children die before the age of 5. Corruption is rife and is exacerbated by weak administration. In reconstruction, bidding and procurement processes are sidestepped. Government revenue is just 5.45% of GDP, the least of any country with data, according to the IMF – tax collectors seek bribes in lieu of tax, and often have links to warlord/militia groups. Meanwhile, opium cultivation has soared, with 2006 production levels exceeding 2005 by 49% now equivalent to 60% of Afghan GNP. Afghanistan now supplies around 90% of the world’s crop. Cultivation is heavy in southern and eastern areas where the Taliban insurgency is active. This helps fund the militia and provides impoverished farmers with a more lucrative revenue source than any immediate alternative.

While much has been made of NATO’s reconstruction/humanitarian role in Afghanistan and elsewhere, NATO is now engaged in serious ground combat for the first time since its founding in 1949, with over 31,000 troops under the command of General David Richards. In July 2006, NATO’s profile broadened from reconstruction and development to counterinsurgency as ISAF’s Stage 3 expansion saw it replace the US-led coalition in southern Afghanistan. NATO assumed a nationwide role in October after Stage 4 took the alliance into Afghanistan’s eastern provinces. Stage 3 and Stage 4take ISAF into highly insecure regions where the Taliban insurgency operating from across the Pakistani border has increased in intensity.

2006 has been the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 2001, with more than 3,000 people, including about 150 foreign soldiers, killed in fighting across the country. According to NATO figures, there have been at least 90 suicide attacks in Afghanistan this year – a nearly fourfold increase from all of 2005. Insurgents have become more aggressive since the NATO expansion, possibly seeking to turn NATO member states public opinion against the Afghan operation, given that Germany, France,Turkey and Italy, among others, have refused to engage in counterinsurgency. Months of acrimonious public and parliamentary debate preceded Dutch troop deployment to southern Afghanistan. Now NATO allies are engaged a simmering war-of-words over division of labor in Afghanistan, which risked to erupt into all-out rancor at this week’s Riga Summit.

In September, NATO’s Operation Medusa reportedly killed over 1,000 Taliban amid Afghan government claims that scores of civilians were also killed. London’s Daily Telegraph stated that NATO’s report on Operation Medusa cited clear

evidence that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is involved in supplying insurgents, leading to a meeting between Richards and Musharraf to discuss the issue. Pakistan recently signed a deal with tribal leaders in the region bordering NATOs new eastern Afghan domain. Prior to the NATO assumption of command, US forces reported a 3- fold increase in insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan since the Pakistani government deal with tribal leaders. NATO military commanders are seething at President Bush’s failure to effectively press Musharraf on this issue – with the US loathe to compromise the Pakistani President in advance of next year’s elections.

With ISAF committed to assisting Afghanistan in creating a stable and secure environment, the entrenched nature of the insurgency and apparent cross-border strategic depth in Pakistan means that NATO will have to defeat an entrenched enemy if it is to realize its mission, a challenge exacerbated by member states’ complex diplomatic engagement with Pakistan. Added to a dynamic development and security challenge in southern and eastern Afghanistan, recent predictions that NATO may need five years to fulfill its mission appear accurate at best and optimistic at worst.

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