Posts Tagged ‘German Forces in Afghanistan’

Training Tribal Militias in AfPak

October 27, 2009

There is intense debate about whether the US should send more troops to Afghanistan as President Obama considers Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban. But most officials and analysts agree that American forces should train Afghans to perform counterinsurgency operations so that they can ultimately take over responsibility for securing their country, a development which would enable Western troops to withdraw without leaving a power vacuum that anti-American elements could fill.

Thus far, the US and its NATO allies have been trying to build up the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), but success has been limited for several reasons, including corruption, ethnic rivalries and the weakness of the central government. A more promising approach would be to work with local tribes, especially the Pashtuns living in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban is strongest, to create tribal militias capable of fighting insurgents (Kyle Flynn, a former Special Forces NCO who served in Afghanistan, has suggested something similar). The Pakistanis might be amenable to training Pashtun fighters on their side of the border, where the Taliban and other militants currently have a sanctuary, in order to relieve the pressure from the US to attack militant strongholds (although the logistics of getting tribesmen out of dangerous areas in Pakistan for training would be complicated).

Coalition forces should also train Tajik tribes in northern Afghanistan, where the Taliban has recently established a greater presence. German forces, the leading NATO contingent in the area, have engaged in firefights with insurgents in Kunduz Province. Kunduz used to be a fairly safe place where soldiers could patrol in unarmored vehicles, but now they do not even travel in armored vehicles without a convoy.

The US and its allies are trying to create a strong national government and security apparatus in a place where neither has ever existed. The coalition should recognize the tribal nature of Afghanistan and adjust its training strategy accordingly.

Germany’s Commitment to Afghanistan

July 2, 2009

Last week, three German soldiers in Afghanistan were killed when their armored personnel carrier flipped over during a fight with insurgents.  The deaths made headlines in Germany, where the war is unpopular.  Thus far, 35 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and there are currently 3,770 deployed there, although most of them are not in the southern part of the country where the combat between insurgents and NATO forces is most intense.  German political leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, will likely come under intense pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as the September parliamentary elections approach.

The Obama administration has been hoping for a larger, more long-term commitment of European soldiers to Afghanistan as it drastically increases American troop levels there this year.  If Germany starts pulling out and other NATO countries follow suit it would undermine the new American strategy, which is to protect the Afghan population from insurgent attacks while training and enhancing the capabilities of local security forces, a plan that requires a greater Western footprint on the ground.

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, recently said “We are getting out [of Afghanistan]. It may take a couple of years, but we [Europeans] are all looking to get out.”

A lessening of NATO’s military commitment to Afghanistan could bring the future of the alliance into question.  Member nations have different views of what serves their interests and the nature of the security threats they face.  Many Europeans do not consider the Taliban or Al Qaeda to be as much of a danger to them as Americans do, so their commitment to a global war against Islamic extremists is likely to be more tepid than that of the US in the long term. Consequently, America might end up having to shoulder almost all of the burden when it comes to counterinsurgency operations outside of Europe.  NATO’s role in international affairs may soon be confined to containing a resurgent Russia and performing “nation-building” tasks.