NATO's strategy in Afghanistan is straightforward says Malcom Chalmers of the London think tank, the Royal United Services Institute. "The NATO Strategy is one in which it's seeking to build up the credibility and strength of the Afghan government by insuring that more and more of the Afghan population is, first of all, underneath the control of the Afghan government, but also being provided with the services and the security that they need so that they will actively support that government, and the Taliban will become an increasingly marginalized force," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama signaled America's commitment to Afghanistan late last year by announcing he would send 30,000 more U.S. troops to the country and urged NATO members to follow suit.
They added 7,000 forces. And it's not just more troops. Two weeks ago U.S., British and Afghan forces launched operation Mushtarak, the biggest offensive against the Taliban since the initial occupation in 2001. The U.S. is leading 15,000 troops to oust the Taliban from parts of Helmand province in Afghanistan's south.
Chalmers says that operation may have left the door open for the Taliban attack on Kabul Friday. "NATO forces, even with the big increase which president Obama has announced and which is still not fully implemented, NATO forces are pretty thinly stretched and when a very large surge goes into particular areas as has recently happened in Helmand, that means that there can be gaps elsewhere and maybe that's one of the things that's happened here," he said.
Chalmers says the Taliban's motives are clear. "This is a psychological battle as well as a military and political one and that's one of the things the Taliban is seeking to exploit. They want to attack the will of the United States and its allies, the will of the Afghan government and seek to persuade them that they can't win, just as NATO is seeking to persuade the Taliban that the Taliban can't win," he said.
Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told an audience at London's Chatham House international Institute that Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas are at the heart of international security. He advocates a three-pronged strategy that is military, political and socio-economic. "We have to defeat al-Qaida, we have to dominate the Taliban and we have to install a legitimate government in Afghanistan. I do understand it's easier said then done. But this is the basic effect that we ultimately want to create," he said.
Mr. Musharraf says quitting is not an option, and success is still possible. "It is doable when we speak from strength, not from weakness, not from a position where everyone says that we should quit and we should be leaving in one year, one and a half, two years we are quitting, we are playing into the hands of the enemy. We strengthen their views and resolve," he said.
Two NATO countries, Canada and the Netherlands have set dates for troop withdrawals. The Dutch government collapsed last week over proposals to extend troop deployment beyond this year. Canadian forces plan to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2011. President Obama said he will consider reducing the number of U.S. forces in July 2011. Chalmers says it is too early to tell whether the surge and NATO's strategy in Afghanistan is working.
"We will I think find out pretty soon, certainly within the next year whether it is making a difference. Time is running out in Afghanistan, not in terms of finishing the insurgency, but in halting the momentum it's had over the last year. We have to gain the initiative over the next year. If we fail to gain the initiative in Afghanistan with this big influx of resources then the pressure for a very different approach will become inexorable," he said.
The NATO mission got a vote of confidence on Friday when Germany's government voted to send 850 more troops to Afghanistan.