Target Centermass


Europeans Balking at New Afghan Role

Filed under: — Gunner @ 11:38 pm

War without allies is bad enough, with allies it is hell!

—Marshal of the RAF Sir John C. Slessor

And today we have another reminder of the veracity of Sir John’s statement.

Germany, France, Britain and other European countries said Tuesday that they strongly opposed an American plan for NATO to become involved in counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan.

Meeting with NATO defense ministers here at the start of a two-day conference, the U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said he would urge the military alliance to expand its role beyond security and peacekeeping and consider joining combat operations against the Taliban-led insurgency.

Although Rumsfeld emphasized that the 20,000 American troops would continue to handle the counterinsurgency mission “for a time,” he said NATO should consider deploying troops to Afghanistan’s eastern border region, where much of the fighting is occurring.

He added, “Over time, it would be nice if NATO developed counterterrorism capabilities, which don’t exist at the present time.”

Well, now would certainly seem an opportune time for NATO to begin building cooperative counterterrorism units and methodologies, and Afghanistan certainly seems the best available testing ground. That is, unless we’re still clutching the fear that the Red Horde is going to come storming through the Fulda Gap.

The Pentagon would like to draw down the presence of American troops, who have come under increasing attack from insurgents since the spring.

Germany’s defense minister, Peter Struck, said on German radio and television that merging NATO’s peacekeeping mission with the American combat operation would fundamentally change NATO’s role in Afghanistan and “would make the situation for our soldiers doubly dangerous and worsen the current climate in Afghanistan.”

Yes, Mr. Struck, putting troops into combat would increase the danger that they face, but thank you, sir, as it’s truly crucial that the obvious be stated costumed as enlightening. Now, if only you would elaborate on how sharing a role in a mission already taking place would change Afghanistan’s climate, then maybe you would actually be saying something of value.

Britain, too, is reluctant to merge the two missions. John Reid, the British defense secretary, supported a “synergy” in which the missions would complement each other. A British defense official said the real issue was “about NATO’s long-term role and how it can adapt to the needs of the 21st century and the new threats.”

France, which has special forces soldiers working alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said Tuesday that it opposed merging the two missions.

A French Defense Ministry official, who like the British official insisted on anonymity because of the delicacy of the discussions, said “the two missions were completely different.”

He added: “If you suddenly merge special forces or heavy counterterrorism units with stabilizing forces, which is NATO’s role in Afghanistan, then you completely undermine NATO’s role.”

One issue with both the British and French statement’s here — a merger of the two missions is not actually being proposed with the exception of the very top level of command, as we’ll soon see. The mingling of stabilization and counterterror forces is not being proposed.

NATO took command of the International Security Assistance Force in August 2003, the first time that the U.S.-led military alliance took on a mission away from its traditional base of Europe. Its primary role has been to maintain security, expand the authority of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan outside the capital of Kabul and assist in the reconstruction of the country.

Meanwhile, American troops have maintained a separate operation with 20,000 troops aimed mainly at defeating Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents, chiefly in the south and east of the country.

With NATO’s mandate scheduled to expire next spring, American officials are urging the alliance to expand its role, in part because of the urge to reduce the U.S. troop presence.

At least initially, Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him, NATO would not replace American troops in a combat role, but handle security and other noncombat duties, as it does elsewhere in the country. Then he added that he hoped NATO would develop counterterrorism capabilities similar to the Americans’.

A senior Defense Department official declined to provide the Americans’ preferred timetable for NATO to take over the Afghan operation. But this week’s meetings in Berlin are aimed at overcoming resistance about taking on a combat role in Afghanistan.

American military officials say they envision a joint NATO command structure in which countries willing to contribute troops to the counterinsurgency mission would be under one commander, while allies that prefer to continue to conduct peacekeeping and other noncombat roles would fall under a separate officer.

This is not allies expressing differences; rather, this is mere quibbling to cover a fear of potentially entering counterterror operations. While one could argue that a unified command structure in the theater simply makes sense in the coordination of efforts, I would be quite willing for the U.S. to give in this area. However, I think the true issue is not this small protestation but rather the reluctance to actually play an offensive role in the Afghanistan arena.

Both operations would fall under a single NATO commander in charge of all operations in Afghanistan, the officials said.

Officials of several NATO countries said they assumed that the United States would want an American in that role.

Judging by the current political leadership of NATO countries, I certainly wouldn’t want a French or German in that role. As I said, I would be willing, albeit reluctantly as I feel it makes sense, give up the unified command concept. Also, I would happily accept a non-American commander take the reins, depending upon the commander and the political backing (read spine) of his countrymen.

German Defense Ministry officials said Struck’s comments had nothing to do with Germany’s federal election that takes place on Sunday. The radical Left Party of former East German Communists and former members of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democratic Party have called for the withdrawal of all German troops from Afghanistan and other countries. Germany has 1,816 soldiers in Afghanistan.

Struck’s position was clear. “NATO is not equipped for counterterrorism operations” he said. “That is not what it is supposed to do.”

No, counterterrorism was not the original envisionment of NATO. It was formed as a Cold War alliance, a counterweight to the threat from the Soviet Union and its satellites. Should the alliance continue to serve any purpose, however, it must recognize today’s actual threat — the radical Islamist expansionism that is clear to see around the globe. For the foreseeable future, that most assuredly exclusively means counterterrorism efforts, as the jihadists are not in a position to form up as a replacement to the Warsaw Pact forces. If the nations of NATO refuse to face this danger in its current state, I see little need for it to continue as a military alliance. It can be reformed in a number of decades out of the nations that haven’t rotted from within from their already troublesome pockets of Islamist immigrants when there actually is a horde to be faced at the border. Alas! I doubt that enemy will bring the rational behaviour that often seemed to keep the Soviets in check.

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