NATO gambles on end to Afghan combat mission in 2014

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, November 21, 2010
Adjust font size:

After a decade of fighting that has cost the lives of more than 2,200 foreign troops, NATO leaders agreed Saturday to wind down their combat mission in Afghanistan over the next four years, handing over responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.

"The Lisbon summit marks the beginning of the end of our mission in Afghanistan," said Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon.

NATO forces will begin handing over control to Afghan forces province-by-province starting early next year, in line with a timetable agreed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, allowing for the gradual withdrawal of the 130,000 NATO troops.

The decision is a gamble on the ability of international and Afghan forces to reverse the trend of growing Taliban strength. The prize for allied governments is an end to a war that is increasingly unpopular, particularly among European citizens who question the link between security at home and the costly military operations in the badlands of Kandahar and Helmand.

"Today marks the beginning of a new phase in our mission in Afghanistan," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the summit.

"We will launch the process by which the Afghan government will take leadership for security throughout the country, district by district, province by province. The direction, starting today, is clear: towards Afghan leadership, and Afghan ownership."

Fogh Rasmussen insisted, however, that NATO would not be abandoning Afghanistan, pointing to a commitment from the alliance leaders to step up training efforts for the Afghan forces and to maintain a support presence in the country for as long as is needed to contain the Taliban insurgents and their al Qaeda allies.

"We will not leave behind a security vacuum that will leave instability in the region," Fogh Rasmussen told a joint news conference with Karzai and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The decision to set a deadline for the handover means, however, that the allies will have to step up their training effort for the Afghan army and particularly the police.

Afghan forces have been plagued by high desertion rates and accusations of brutality and corruption. Despite some successes in creating effective fighting units, a major push will be needed before they are able to taken on a resurgent Taliban.

NATO's strategy, implemented by its U.S. force commander, Gen. David Petraeus, involves hitting the Taliban hard in the short-term to weaken the insurgents to allow for the eventual drawdown of allied troops. The alliance has been pumping in an extra 40,000 troops, mostly from the U.S.

The U.S. Marine Corps announced Friday that they would be sending heavy tanks to Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan for the first time.

According to American news reports, the U.S. is also seeking to expand its drone attacks against suspected Taliban leaders hiding across the border in Pakistan.

Several allies, including Canada, Britain, Italy and Portugal, said they would send additional military and police training units in response to a request from Petraeus. The goal is to train up 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police by the end of next year.

For many allied governments, the clear goal is to bring their troops home as early as possible. The Netherlands already pulled out its 2,000 troops in August and Canada is due to withdraw its 2,800 combat troops from Kandahar in 2011.

Nations that have punched above their weight in Afghanistan acknowledge that there needs to be a change in the mission given that the war is seen as stalemated by citizens in many of their countries.

"Troops can only be on the ground if the governments and people accept it, we can only do it with their support," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite acknowledged in an interview with Xinhua.

One of NATO's smaller nations, Lithuania has over 200 troops deployed in Afghanistan's rugged and remote Ghor province.

Britain with 9,500 troops in some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan is the second largest troop contributor after the United States and is considered America's staunchest ally. But Prime Minister David Cameron has committed to start pulling troops out next year with the aim of wrapping up the combat mission by 2015.

"Britain by 2015 will have played a huge role, made a massive contribution, made massive sacrifices for a better, safer and stronger Afghanistan, and I think the British public deserve to know that there is an endpoint to all this," Cameron told parliament in London on the eve of the NATO summit.

British officials are hoping that more NATO nations will agree to send more troops to the more dangerous NATO regions during the transition phase as Afghan troops take over in the more peaceful provinces in the north and west of the country.

However, nations such as Germany, Spain and Italy who have previously refused to deploy to the more dangerous provinces would likely face a public opinion storm if they were to do so during the transition.

Meanwhile, NATO signed an agreement with Karzai that stressed the need for increased co-ordination between military and civilian efforts in the country. NATO officials are convinced that the transition to Afghan leadership on the military side needs to be matched by improvements in civilian rule in the provinces.

Officials from major civilian donors such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, European Union and the Japanese government also attended the summit meeting.

Karzai reiterated calls for his government to have more control over the billions of dollars in international aid that pour into the country every year.

Allied officials said his request for the amount of aid to be channeled through the government to be increased from 20 percent to 50 percent were given broad support in principle, but in reality donors want stronger guarantees that authorities are taking stronger action against waste and corruption.

"In a context of severe budget and financial constraints, we have to show Europeans that Afghanistan is serious about tackling critical issues, from human rights to good governance, from judicial and electoral reform and fighting drug trafficking and corruption," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the summit.

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comments

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from