Accessibility links

NATO's Afghan Strategy Under Review

  • Tresha Mabile

When the United States launched Operation "Enduring Freedom" in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was little question about the mission: to remove the Taliban government that had given sanctuary to al Qaida. The U.S. had the world's sympathy and the full support of its NATO allies. More than seven years later, it's a much different story.

There is one point of consensus among the U.S., its European allies and Afghanistan: the situation there is deteriorating, and the course must be reversed.

The mission, however, has become unclear.

David Kilcullen is a former officer in the Australian army and a counterinsurgency expert who worked closely with General David Petraeus in Iraq. He says NATO's efforts are crippled by a critical lack of coordination.

"The problem in Afghanistan is not that we don't have a strategy, it's that we have 41 different strategies, one for each of the countries there. We also have different strategies regarding counter-narcotics, counter -insurgency, counter- terrorism, governance, and development. There are a lot of players, each doing their own thing," he said.

Gilles Dorronsoro is a French expert on security and political development in Afghanistan, in particular the role of ISAF. He says NATO has failed the test of Afghanistan.

"The main casualty in the Afghan War is NATO. We are not exactly building some kind of nice democracy. More than that the problem is that after seven years we did not build the basic thing that is considered a state," he said.

He and other critics say that while NATO signed on to stabilize the country after the Taliban were ousted, the mission changed after 2003, when the U.S. shifted most of its resources and attention to Iraq.

The insurgency and the drug trade began to flourish, with European soldiers either unprepared or untrained to engage in guerrilla warfare, according to Dorronsoro.

"The only army that is really trained is the British army. But in this case Helmand is a failure. Even there it's not really working. What we are seeing now. I think that it's the core problem here is that more and more this war is an American war. The American troops are becoming the majority, clearly," he said.

The Obama administration initiated a review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan as soon as the new president took office.

In the meantime, Mr. Obama has announced the deployment of 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

But some NATO countries, under pressure from public opinion at home, are debating when to exit.

"What we are going to see in 2011 is that the Canadians are withdrawing. The Dutch will withdraw, most probably. And then southern European states could withdraw also, the Italians, the Spanish. I'm not sure that in three years that all Europeans will be in Afghanistan actually," he said.

In a recent speech to NATO, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged that both the Americans and Europeans are weary of the war. However, he said, the dangers posed in the region must be faced - and fought - by all.

"We know that it's from the very same area that extremists planned virtually every major terrorist attack on Europe since 9/11 and the attack on Mumbai. We know that it was this same area that al-Qaida and its extremist cell and its extremist allies are re-generating and conceiving new atrocities to visit upon us," he said.

While a recent poll shows Americans support sending the additional troops to Afghanistan, it is not clear how many more years, soldiers and money they want to invest there.

"I don't think we know yet. I think that Americans have actually more tolerance for warfare than we sometimes give them credit for. What Americans don't have tolerance for is seeing losses without also seeing some kind of progress," he said. "I think it becomes very difficult to sustain support when you feel like you're banging your head against a brick wall and losing people day in and day out, but you don't see any tangible progress," he explained.

XS
SM
MD
LG