Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

NATO is Broken…At Least in Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on July 13, 2009
Afghanistan is becoming a "go it alone mission" for the United States

Afghanistan is becoming a "go it alone mission" for the United States

Upon entering the Oval Office in January 2009, President Barack Obama placed a tremendous amount of his credibility as a national politician on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.  Contrary to former President George W. Bush’s unquestioned loyalty to the American campaign in Iraq, the former Illinois senator has successfully distinguished himself as a man who believes America must go back to where its War on Terrorism began.  After six full years of a U.S.-led occupation in Iraq, an Arab country that may always be characterized by dangerous sectarian divisions, the United States Military must finally put Baghdad aside for more pressing issues.  In a dramatic attempt by the White House to salvage the foreign-policy blunders of the Bush administration, the State and Defense Departments have begun too caste their differences aside for the sake of American unity…an alliance that is more than vital if Washington and its allies wish to effectively resist terrorism in all its forms.

Of course, the military campaign that the president and his closest advisors are desperately trying to improve is the joint U.S. and NATO operation in Afghanistan.  These efforts should be widely applauded by Americans and Afghans alike, considering the fact that insurgent attacks have sharply increased against coalition forces over the past year.  The same Taliban regime that was once hanging by a thread in the months proceeding September 11, 2001 is now reinvigorated in both numbers and logistics.  The sporadic gunfire that Taliban fighters relied upon with utmost vigor is now replaced with more sophisticated operations.  Sunni extremists, Afghan tribes, and members of the Al’Qaeda terrorist organization have adapted with relative ease to coalition successes on the ground.  Roadside bombs that Islamic insurgents so frequently used in Iraq’s major cities and towns are now being implemented in Afghan villages…a development that commanders have finally discovered after numerous instances of bloodshed.  As if the downward spiral cannot get any worse, U.S. and NATO military strategies have all but allowed the influential leadership of Al’Qaeda to escape to Pakistan’s ungovernable western frontier.

An official document published by the United States Defense Department, entitled Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, confirms these assertions.  Between October of 2008 and May of 2009, “insurgent-initiated attacks…were 60 percent higher than during the same period the previous year.”  A total of 67 American personnel were killed on the front lines during this same time-frame, while the deaths of the Afghan Security Forces increased by an astounding 48 percent.  Combined with the large amounts of opium produced by Afghan farmers, the insurgency that was once labeled by the Bush administration labeled as non-existent has rebounded to devastating effect.

With Afghanistan quickly transforming into a besieged state on par with Somalia and Darfur, President Obama’s decision to send an additional 21,000 U.S. troops is certainly understandable.  As Time Magazine has so accurately reported, the Afghan conflict has become Mr. Obama’s Vietnam War…a costly and questionable campaign that the president hopes to revitalize in the American consciousness.  With Washington’s Afghanistan policy switching from a nation-building fantasy to a strict security operation, it is natural for the Obama White House to increase troop commitments in order to adequately train and equip Afghanistan’s national army and police.

Ongoing military-offensives by U.S. soldiers against Taliban strongholds in Southern Afghanistan are forceful examples of how serious America is in denying Al’Qaeda save-haven in the war-torn Islamic country.  In fact, recent reporting by the Reuters news organization has confirmed the numerous successes of coalition forces (led by the United States):  Taliban fighters are being pushed from their former hideouts with unprecedented speed.  There is no question of America’s sincerity in persevering, let alone completing the difficult counterinsurgency activities required for success.

What should be questioned, however, is NATO’s commitment to this same exact mission.  Although there are currently 41 nations around the world contributing military forces to the “Af-Pak” region (excluding the United States), the combined numbers in this “Coalition of the Willing” tells a different story:  compared to the 68,000 American soldiers on the ground, NATO member-states have only sent an additional 33,000 men and women to the fight.  The second-highest contributor to Operation Enduring Freedom is the staunch U.S. ally Great Britain…where approximately 8,300 British troops are stationed in the southern portion of Afghanistan.  Ironically, this is the same section of the country that has been routinely bombarded by insurgent attacks in the last year.  Taking Britain’s numbers into perspective, the nation with the third-most effective contingent is Germany with over 3,000 troops:  a figure that can hardly be called helpful when the United States is bearing the largest brunt of the casualties and cost.  Is NATO simply too weak to convince member-states to cough-up more troops, funds, and resources to the Afghan conflict?  Or are international institutions in general unable to perform their stated agreements, due to the constant array domestic politics and bureaucratic red tape?

If President Obama is willing to alter his course in response to a resurgent insurgency, shouldn’t members of NATO be willing to do the same?  After all, the fight against the Al’Qaeda establishment and the decentralized Taliban infrastructure is not simply a battle that the United States must unilaterally deal with.  The whole international community is equally affected by the lingering dangers of terrorism and political extremism.  Each and every individual, regardless of nationality, religion, race, creed, or gender, faces similar threats of terrorist-related violence on a daily-basis.  London was attacked by bombs in 2005, killing over 50 civilians.  The United States suffered the worst terrorist incident in modern history on September 11…deliberate plane crashes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that claimed over 3,000 innocent men, women, and children.  Kenya and Tanzania suffered hundreds of casualties due to an Al’Qaeda-sponsored bombing campaign against the U.S. Embassy.  Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been blown up by suicide bombers at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists over the past six years, while Spain was rocked by a subway-detonation that extinguished at least 200 people.  With so many diverse cultures being raddled by incidents of indiscriminate violence, one would think that governments all over the world would rise to the task by stepping up their force contributions in Afghanistan…the same country that aided and embedded Osama bin-Laden’s terrorist apparatus for years under the Taliban Regime.

Being unwilling to send young men and women into the battlefield is one thing…deliberately refusing to abide by international agreements is certainly another.  While the press has continued to cover NATO troop deployments over the last few years, major media outlets have failed to expose the ineptitude and incompetence of the alliance’s leadership and structure.  Casting aside those very few countries (such as Britain and Italy) who have routinely pledged their unending support to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the vast majority of NATO members seem either uninterested or weak-willed in the coalition’s efforts.  The U.S. Department of Defense has gone so far as to claim that Washington’s allies have consistently undermined the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency doctrine…either by limiting monetary contributions or failing to deliver technical support.

The rising death and injury toll, both on the civilian and military sides of the conflict, have not even gained the attention of other members of the coalition.  Just when the United States and Great Britain need their allies the most, Europe decides to sacrifice international security for the sake of appeasing the interests of public opinion.

For the last eight years, the United States Military has often been unable to gain the military, financial, technical, and civilian support that is needed to successfully uproot Islamic fundamentalism in Afghan provinces.  Unfortunately, it appears that Washington has all but expected its requests to be ignored, if not denied, by the international community (Great Britain aside).  In the most updated version of the Defense Department report on Afghanistan:

“The United States sent tailored requests to individual international partners and allies.  The requests were for civilian, military, and financial support and were delivered in March 2009.  At the time of this report, there has been limited response to the request.”

While seemingly confined to the situation in Kabul, this conclusion tells us an otherwise different story:  the system of alliances that the United States and Great Britain have so thoroughly taken-for-granted is drastically being shaken by its very foundations.  The asymmetrical warfare has come to overwhelm security policy in the 21st century is gradually eroding international unity.  Long gone are the days when a nation can be saved by friendly governments when trouble engulfs their population.  Long gone are the days when a strong and effective relationship can be sustained for a long period of time.  Long gone are the years in which international institutions and national governments can team up and dispose of an extraordinary threat to stability (as the United Nations and the United States did in the Gulf War).  And finally, it appears that the age of modern terrorism is severely jeopardizing a long historical precedent in only a few short years: rather than practicing what they preach, members of NATO and the United Nations have decided that acquiring political points is more useful than fulfilling promises.

As the United States and its “allies” continue to rid the world of violent ideologues in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as Washington continues to expand its resistance against Islamic fundamentalism in general, we can only hope that France, Germany, Britain, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Australia and a host of others will recognize that the fight we are currently engaging in is the fight that will define our generations’ history.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is right…”this is a very hard summer.”  But make no mistake about it, it is a hardship worth enduring.  The very survival of democracy is in the balance.  MESSAGE TO NATO…HELP THE WORLD TRIUMPH FOR THE BETTER!

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from:



-John J. Kruzel of the American Forces Press Service

International Security Assistance Force

– and the United States Department of Defense’ Report on Progress Toward Security and

Stability in Afghanistan contributed to this blog.

Entire report on the current security situation in Afghanistan can be assessed at:  http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/1230_June%C2%AD2009Final.pdf

For more NATO figures for the conflict in Afghanistan:



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