International forces under the banner of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization are continuing to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
But NATO field commanders are hindered by certain restrictions
placed on troops by European governments.
NATO has more than
60,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a United Nations mandated
contingent known as the "International Security Assistance Force" - or
ISAF troops are located in most parts of the country.
One of their most difficult missions is to fight insurgents in southern
Afghanistan - home of the Taliban, ousted from power by a U.S.-led
coalition in 2001.
Analysts say NATO is hindered in its fight
against the Taliban by so-called "caveats" - restrictions placed by
various NATO countries on what their forces can or cannot do.
Tomas Valasek, at the London-based Center for European Reform, describes some of those restrictions.
happening is that whenever a call for troops comes in for a particular
operation, the different contingents come back, or get back to the NATO
commanders saying, well we'd love to take part but under the national
'caveat' we are not allowed to operate in this particular area, or
we're not allowed to operate this far away from the base, or we are not
allowed to operate at night," he said.
Valasek says NATO commanders in the field are finding it difficult to put together a workable strategy.
you are a military commander, and if you are looking at putting
together a fighting force out of what is already a hodge-podge of
national militaries, and you're finding that each one operates under a
different set of rules - some of them very restrictive - well, that's a
very difficult way to fight a war. Caveats have been a tremendous
frustration to the NATO commanders," he said.
Most of the
fighting in Afghanistan is taking place in the south. But the Taliban
has expanded its range of action to the east and to the relatively
Robert Hunter, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO,
says the presence of "caveats" means only a few countries are bearing
the brunt of the heavy fighting.
"The United States, Britain,
the Dutch, the Canadians, who've actually had more fatalities in
Afghanistan than any war since Korea - what 50, 60 years ago," he said.
"The Estonians, the French are doing a bit more, the Poles do a bit.
But most of the rest of the allies are not involved, really, in that
most dangerous part of the country."
The United States is the
largest contributor to the ISAF force with approximately 30,000
soldiers and Marines. Their presence in the most dangerous areas of
Afghanistan has prompted some U.S. soldiers to say ISAF - the
"International Security Assistance Force" - stands for "I Saw Americans
Fighting", or "I Stop At Five", a reference to the European "caveats".
a recent speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Barack Obama
said the Taliban insurgency will not be defeated overnight.
will not be quick, nor easy," he said. "But we must never forget. This
is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked
America on 9/11  are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked,
the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which
al-Qaida would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war
worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people."
analysts say this is the fundamental difference between Washington and
many European countries: whereas the U.S. believes Afghanistan is a
national security issue, the European public does not.
Kupchan is with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C.
"They do not believe, for example, in Germany, that German forces are
protecting German territory from a potential strike by al-Qaida," he
"And as a result of that, it is difficult for the German
government to make the case to the German public, not only that they
should send more troops, but that those troops that are already there
should stay and should run the risk of physical harm. And so a lot of
it is that the Europeans simply have not done a good enough job of
making the case to their publics for the war in Afghanistan," he added.
analysts are also questioning whether the Obama administration has done
enough to convince the American public the U.S. must stay - at least
for the time being - in Afghanistan. A recent public opinion survey
indicates 51 percent of those questioned say the war in Afghanistan is
not worth fighting.
"If the war in Afghanistan does not go
well, then I think by sometime in 2010 Obama may have a domestic
problem. And those who worry about Afghanistan becoming Obama's Vietnam
may say: 'I told you so," said Kupchan.
In the meantime, experts say the U.S. must convince the Europeans to do more in Afghanistan for NATO to succeed.
say if the Europeans have an interest in keeping NATO strong - as they
say they do - then it requires doing some unpopular things - like
sending troops to dangerous areas in Afghanistan.