News / Asia

Three Questions: NATO and the Afghan War

In November, NATO leaders gather in Lisbon, Portugal, where the war in Afghanistan will dominate the agenda.  One of the key issues is reported to be transferring security from around 140,000 U.S. and NATO troops to Afghans next year as scheduled, in the hopes of speeding up the end of an increasingly violent and protracted nine-year conflict -- one that has left the public in the United States and Europe weary.

The Voice of America spoke to Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, who will be attending the November summit.

VOA: "How has NATO's participation in the Afghan war changed the organization, or has it?"

Amb. Daalder: "This used to be an organization that was ready to react to an event that might occur, an attack on its territory. Now, this is an organization that is engaged in military operations almost as a matter of course. We have been involved since 1995 in various operations, first in the Balkans, and in the last six years, in Afghanistan. So there is a tempo and an activity that has changed this organization from a reactive... organization to a pro-active organization, building security. What we now need to see is a greater degree of reform to make it even more agile, more flexible, more pro-active than it has been in the past. And more capable of operating over great distances.  After all, NATO today is operating the largest operation in its history five thousand kilometers from the headquarters in Brussels. That is an extraordinary distance to have 140,000 troops or so on the ground conducting military operations."

VOA:  "There is going to be the upcoming summit in Lisbon and there will be discussions  to look at NATO's new strategic concept. What are some of the ways you think the organization should change?"

Amb. Daalder: "The challenge for the organization is to posture itself for the 21st century and to take an organization that has adapted quite a bit in the last 20 years since the end of the Cold War, an organization that has gotten used to operating what we call 'out of area.' To take that organization and to recognize that it no longer just working within a confined geographical region, but is now an actor in a global world.  The threats that we face today are threats that can, frankly, come from anywhere in the world.  They can come over cyber networks, they can come from through terrorist networks, they can come through proliferation networks, they can come on the top of a long-range ballistic missile. And all of those threats now mean that NATO, while it remains a regional organization of North American and European countries, has to act in the world at large."

VOA:  "Humanitarian groups are saying the security situation is the worst than its ever been during this nine-year war, and we have seen some important NATO members nations such as the Netherlands begin withdrawing their forces. Is NATO committed to seeing the Afghan war through?"

Amb. Daalder: "NATO as an organization and the individual countries that are part of it... is fully and completely committed to this operation. The Dutch decision to withdraw was made something that was made more than two and one-half years ago, when the Dutch decided to stay for another two years.  It is not a decision that has anything to do with current events... The same is true for other countries that may have committed a long time ago to ending their particular operations. What we are seeing in Afghanistan as far as NATO is concerned... is an uptick in forces. The United States has provided 30,000 more troops, the allies have provided 10,000 more troops, all of which are still being deployed even as we speak. So, rather than reducing forces, what we are seeing is increased forces."

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