Posts Tagged ‘NATO’s Commitment to Afghanistan’

The Politics of Obama’s Troop Level Decision

November 25, 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published an excellent article by correspondent David Sanger in which he analyzes the political implications of President Obama’s impending decision about troop levels in Afghanistan.  He observes that the president will try to satisfy many different parties, including Democrats, Republicans, NATO allies, Pakistan, the Afghan government and the American people, when he addresses the nation on Tuesday.  It has been reported that President Obama will announce his intention to deploy roughly 30,000 additional soldiers and Marines to fight the Taliban.

The president’s attempt to signal his resolve to continue the war until the mission has been completed while conveying that America’s troop commitment is not open-ended will be a difficult task, and in trying to satisfy everybody he may fail to satisfy anybody. 

Democrats will be disappointed by his decision to escalate the conflict, and Republicans will likely criticize him for not sending at least 40,000 more troops, which Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, has requested.  Without setting a deadline for withdrawal, most NATO countries will not be inclinded to send more forces because of the unpopularity of the war in Europe.  By declaring that America’s will not maintain a permanent presence in Afghanistan, the Pakistanis will fear the consequences of an American pullout and continue to hedge their bets by maintaining ties with the Taliban in case the militants regain power after the US leaves.  Saying that Afghan President Hamid Karzai must curb corruption in order to insure continuing American support could alienate the leader without motivating him to act because the threat is not credible.  How the American people will be influenced by the president’s speech is uncertain; a slim majority oppose continuing the war, but calls to “support the troops” and help them complete their mission have an emotional resonance.

British Will Keep Troops in Afghanistan

September 4, 2009

Earlier today, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that his government will keep British roops in Afghanistan until that country’s army and policy are capable of protecting civilians from Taliban insurgents without the help of NATO forces.  There are currently 9,000 British soldiers in Afghanistan and 31,000 military personnel from other NATO membes aside from the 68,000 American troops operating there.  The prime minister said preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda was important for national security.

Mr. Brown’s decision comes at a critical time when Western forces are struggling to combat a strengthened Taliban insurgency.  Had he decided to withdraw British troops soon, the US or other NATO countries would have had to step up and fill the void, and other alliance members might have felt more comfortable withdrawing their troops to satisfy constituents.  The war effort is growing increasingly unpopular in Europe, where the majority of citizens believe their country’s troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is considering increasing the size of the American military presence following claims by military commanders that they do not have enough soldiers to succeed in their mission.  The administration is reportedly considering deploying an additional 10,000 to 45,000 troops to Afghanistan.  If 45,000 more soldiers and Marines are added to the American force presence, the number of militay personnel in Afghanistan will approach the amount currently in Iraq.

Whether the British will live up to their promise of keeping 9,000 troops in Afghanistan until local security forces are fully capable of securing their country is doubtful.  It might take a decade or more for that goal to be achieved, if it can be achieved at all, and a lack of public support for continuing the war may for force European governments to pullout.  If that happens, the US may have to go it alone, a policy option that President Obama heavily criticized former President George W. Bush for pursuing in Iraq.

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.