Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Europeans Limit Commitment to Afghanistan

April 8, 2009

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.


The Limits of Territorial Denial

March 30, 2009

During the last few years, Saudi Arabia has pursued what many believe to be a successful counterterrorism strategy.  After a series of attacks in the kingdom between 2003 and 2005, the government acknowledged that it had a domestic terrorism problem and began cracking down on militants.  Officers in the security apparatus who were sympathetic to Islamic extremists were purged.  More SWAT teams were created and put on 24 hour standby, and regular police personnel now receive one month of counterterrorism training each year.  Radical clerics were suppressed and 218 jihadists were sent to “rehabilitation camps” where officials tried to put an end to their violent tendencies (14 of them later continued their illicit activities).


All of the 85 people on the “most wanted” list of terrorist suspects are no longer in Saudi Arabia, which suggests that the anti-terrorism campaign has been very successfully.   However, many of the jihadists have simply moved to Yemen and Afghanistan from whence they continue to launch attacks against the Saudis as well as Afghans and Americans.  Those jihadists have declared their intention to overthrow the Saudi government.  Although the odds of that happening are low, the terrorists can still create instability in the strategically important oil kingdom.


The Saudi situation demonstrates that territorial denial, which can be beneficial to some extent, has its limits in terms of curbing terrorist threats.  This is especially relevant with regard to the US mission in Afghanistan, the goal of which is preventing Al Qaeda from regaining a sanctuary in Afghanistan according to the new strategy revealed last week by the Obama administration.  While preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist state is important, doing so will not solve the problem in Pakistan where Al Qaeda currently has a sanctuary that will probably not be eliminated anytime soon.  American and Pakistani officials recently acknowledged that elements in the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, have provided money, military supplies and strategic advice to Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents.  As long as the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to destroy America’s terrorist foes in Pakistan, US efforts to deny the militants a base in Afghanistan will only have a limited effect in terms of weakening Al Qaeda.