Thursday, February 07, 2008

you say tonayto, i say tonato

Since we brought up NATO contributions to Afghanistan last class, thought it relevant that there are two days of informal talks among NATO members in Vilnius, Lithuania today. This weekend will also see the 44th Munich Conference on Security, during which the Afghanistan issue is also expected to come up.

US SecDef Gates is requesting that other NATO members put in to replace the 3,200 US troops being redeployed to specifically go after Taliban forces. I think its safe to read into this that the US is worried about a resurgence in Taliban attacks, both because of the eventual spring thaw (over winter the mountainous areas become fairly inhospitable and difficult to transit, let alone fight in) and because of an expected devolving situation in Pakistan, which could result in more fighters coming into Afghanistan from the Federally (un)Administered Tribal Areas and the Northwest Frontier Province.

At the same time, Canada is talking about pulling out its 1,500 troops when their mandate expires in Feb 2009, unless NATO provides 1,000 troops in assistance.

Rice and Gates are making a surprise visit to Afghanistan today, emphasizing that operations in Afghanistan are about counterinsurgency, not peacekeeping. And this seems to be the problem. Peacekeeping and reconstruction is relatively easy to accept - you send your troops, they don't have to fight, and its a big, happy humanitarian love-fest. Counterinsurgency is just the opposite. Your constituency hates it because there's fighting and soldiers dying. The occupied population hates it because you're shooting everything. Counterinsurgency operations are harder, more expensive, require more training, more commitment, and entail more risk.

The countries that are putting in that risk, commitment, $$ and training besides the US are the ones that have traditionally worked with the US on this stuff in the past: Canada and the UK. This of course, begs the question: is it reasonable to expect other NATO member nations to contribute to a COIN force, with all that entails?

Still, there does seem to be some sort of compromise. It's been getting less press, but Germany has agreed to deploy this summer a special 200-strong reserve unit to Afghanistan as a Quick Reaction Force. This is ostensibly the first official combat - instead of reconstruction or training - group Germany has sent so far. No 200 QRF is going to substitute for 1,000 troops requested by Canada and 2,000 requested by Gates, but it may be evidence that Germany is trying to meet its more demanding NATO allies just a little more than halfway. If the German QRF indicates a strategy shift, something significant but not too controversial for the German government/populace, it could lead to larger additions in the future.

There are about 43,250 NATO troops in Afghanistan. The US provides 15,000, Britain 7,800, Canada 2,500, Germany about 3,500, Netherlands 1,650, Australia 1,070, France 1,515, Italy 2,880, and Poland about 1,100 (according to the BBC and ISAF).

No comments: