Europeans Limit Commitment to Afghanistan

At a NATO summit meeting in Strasbourg, France on Saturday, European leaders limited their commitment to the war in Afghanistan by only offering to send an additional 5,000 troops there, 3,000 of which will merely be in country long enough to provide security for the August elections.  The Obama administration had been hoping for a larger, more long-term deployment of European soldiers as it increases American troop levels in Afghanistan from 38,000 to 68,000 this year.


President Obama, in accord with the conclusion of a recent American strategy review, stressed that the mission in Afghanistan was to “defeat Al Qaeda,” rather than more ambitious nation-building goals that some have advocated.  The main thrust of the new strategy, which European leaders support, is to enlarge and better-train Afghan security forces so that they can shoulder the burden of securing their country and thereby enable Western nations to withdraw.  This new, limited aim signifies that the Obama administration wants to pullout of Afghanistan as soon as an acceptable amount of stability is achieved.  European officials are in an even bigger hurry to extricate their troops.


A European diplomat at the summit, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “We are getting out.  It may take a couple of years, but we are all looking to get out.”


The quickly approaching end of NATO’s military commitment to Afghanistan brings into question what kind of role the alliance will play on the international stage.  At the beginning of the war, some in NATO saw the conflict as an opportunity to redefine the organization’s area of operations and demonstrate that the group could focus on missions outside of Europe.  But European plans to withdraw their soldiers from Afghanistan much sooner than the US reveals that nations within the alliance have different views of what serves their interests and the nature of the security threats they face.  Many Europeans do not consider Al Qaeda to be as much of a danger to them as Americans do, so their commitment to a global war against terrorism is likely to be more tepid than that of the US in the long term.  Consequently, NATO’s sphere of influence may soon be much smaller than anticipated a few years ago and perhaps confined to Europe where member states can focus on containing a resurgent Russia.


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