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Poor Security Haunts Upcoming Afghan Vote - 2004-06-23


When NATO leaders gather for a summit in Istanbul Monday, Afghanistan's security is expected to be high on the agenda. NATO had pledged to beef up its force outside the Afghan capital Kabul for upcoming elections. However, NATO member states' actions have not matched their rhetoric.

Pleading and prodding by U.S., U.N., and Afghan officials have so far failed to get NATO to come up with more resources to bolster security in Afghanistan.

William Taylor, the U.S. State Department coordinator for Afghanistan, says NATO needs to keep its promise.

"NATO has made commitments to increase the number of soldiers that are going to come to Afghanistan in order to secure the elections. They need to do this," he said. "NATO needs to step up to that promise. It's very important."

In its first-ever mission outside Europe, NATO took control of the International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF, last year. With U.N. approval, it pledged to set up provincial garrisons beyond Kabul for the first time, and to provide additional soldiers and equipment to improve Afghanistan's security environment for elections in September.

But member states have been reluctant to contribute resources to the Afghan peacekeeping effort. Promises of transport planes and helicopters have failed to materialize. A U.S. suggestion that the scheduled August withdrawal of a Canadian troop contingent be delayed one month to help with election security fell flat.

Meanwhile, security in the countryside remains precarious as aid workers come under attack by warlord-run militias or remnants of the ousted Taleban regime. Earlier this month, 11 Chinese workers were killed by suspected militants in Kunduz province. Some analysts say security is actually deteriorating, but U.S. military officials dispute that.

Speaking recently at a seminar on the Afghan elections at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Taylor said he can not account for NATO's hesitation.

"For the security of the elections in September, this doesn't need to be a permanent deployment," he said. "This needs to be a temporary deployment. And so the requirements of putting people in Afghanistan for a long term are not there. They can deploy for a month or two and really provide that kind of insurance. So I can't defend NATO's delay at this point."

But Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, which analyzes world trouble spots, says the reluctance to expand ISAF originally came from the United States. He says that while the Bush Administration now backs the ISAF expansion, residual displeasure among NATO states over U.S. action in Iraq has made getting action more difficult.

"The reality is that this administration objected to the extension of ISAF beyond Kabul until late last summer, and that set in motion a process which, following Iraq as well, made it much, much more difficult to garner the NATO countries' support early on," he said.

The elections, which will be for both president and parliament, were originally scheduled for this month but were delayed until September. Afghan and U.S. officials have said that another delay is possible - at least in the parliamentary polls - unless there is a clear improvement in Afghanistan's security environment.

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