Afghanistan will unravel NATO, says Canadian general

NATO’s long-term exit strategy: building Afghan security forces
Whatever strategy NATO uses to fight insurgents in Afghanistan, its exit strategy is centred on building the Afghan army and police until they can ensure security, top officials and officers say. Even if NATO takes a concerted counter-insurgency approach to try to steal the initiative away from the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and their backers, building up national security forces will take at least four years. “There are some basic physical limitations as to how quickly you can recruit, educate and train Afghan soldiers, so it makes sense to expect a four or five year time perspective,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said. During that time, as efforts are made to build the Afghan army from around 94,000 troops today to 240,000 and the police from 92,000 to 160,000 officers, international personnel and hundreds of trainers will be needed. The plan is to achieve those goals at the end of 2013 but growing public opposition to NATO’s most challenging mission ever is weakening political resolve and it is unclear how many allies will want to commit long-term. “We recognise there are challenges and risks with making even that kind of timeline,” said US General Richard Formica, who leads the “transition” effort from international dependence to stand-alone Afghan security.

“It’s going to require trainers, dollars and infrastructure to build the Afghan security forces,” he warned, in a video-conference from Kabul. Once their basic training is completed, Afghan army recruits are supported by NATO trainers and mentors – teams of up to 30 international soldiers who deploy with units for a minimum of six months, when possible. More than 50 teams are currently deployed, but almost 70 will be needed to get the army up to 134,000 soldiers by October 2010, with scores more required to hit the final 240,000 target by late 2013. Police training is even more complex and time consuming, especially in a country where up to two in three people are illiterate. “Police officers have to learn how to read, to write, the legislation, they have to learn the constitution, they are not under command all the time, they are alone on the street,” said the head of the EU police mission.

“The tasks of the police go from helping with dogs, to crossing the street, to arresting people, to act on a crime scene, to know how to act on a case with suicide bombers,” said the EUPOL chief, Kai Vittrup. “It’s a huge, huge task.” Typically training takes eight weeks, but EUPOL officers say at least four months are needed to bring recruits up to the point where they can read enough to carry out the most basic tasks. While policing is tough – scores of officers have been killed by suicide bombers or at check points – finding international trainers is a whole other obstacle. The United States uses the military to teach police to protect themselves, while private security contractor Dyncorp handles law enforcement training using retired US police officers. EUPOL had around 245 international staff in Afghanistan in July, around the time its numbers were meant to stand at 400, while half a dozen European nations have decided to use paramilitary gendarmes to do the job. But progress here has been slow.

The gendarmes have only begun arriving in Afghanistan, and Formica said this month that his team had still not been in contact with them. And police officers just can’t be plucked off street corners in European capitals. Few want to go, and processing of those that do takes time. As NATO defence ministers meet in Bratislava Friday to debate the new approach to Afghanistan, Rasmussen said he would be urging them to focus on the training operation. “I will be pushing ministers hard to fully resource it with trainers, equipment and money,” he said.

by Staff Writers
Ottawa (AFP) Oct 22, 2009
Almost eight years on, a continued lack of focus and resolve in Afghanistan will be NATO’s undoing, Canada’s former top general warns in a new book.

Retired general and former Canadian chief of defense staff Rick Hillier wrote in his autobiography to be published next week: “Afghanistan has revealed that NATO has reached the stage where it is a corpse, decomposing” and in need of “lifesaving” or “the alliance will be done.”

He said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is vulnerable to “any major setback” in Afghanistan and faces extinction unless it can “snatch victory out of feeble efforts” thus far.

In the book, “A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War,” Hillier says no Western country had predicted an Afghan resurgence following the early success of the US invasion in 2001.

When Hillier took command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) years later, “It was crystal clear from the start that there was no strategy for the mission in Afghanistan,” he wrote.

“NATO had started down a road that destroyed much of its credibility and in the end eroded support for the mission in every nation in the alliance.

“Sadly years later, that situation remains unchanged.”

Hillier lamented “pie-in-the-sky ideas for Afghanistan” that were not backed by firm strategies, clear articulation of goals, political guidance or combat forces. “It was abysmal,” he said.

At the start of the conflict, European countries rebuffed Canada’s joining ISAF. “We were shunned,” said Hillier. “They did not want us as part of their alliance.”

The British in particular believed Canada had “lost its ability to be a war-fighting nation.” They had “no faith that Canada would pull its weight, especially if things got tough.”

Eventually, Canada was offered a chance to join a US division in southern Afghanistan, deploying in early 2002 and earning the respect of US commanders as they helped rout Al-Qaeda militants.

When a second ISAF force was sent to rout an insurgency, “the Europeans had suddenly warmed to the idea of Canadian participation after realizing the challenges of generating the ISAF force.”

Canada sent 2,000 troops to Kabul in August 2003, and assumed command of ISAF in February 2004. Some 2,800 troops are now deployed in volatile Kandahar province until 2011.

Hillier accused NATO of being “dominated by jealousies and small, vicious political battles,” adding its “lack of cohesion, clarity and professionalism was ominous” at the start of the Afghan mission.

He lamented that many alliance members are focused on “building their own little fiefdom” instead of preparing troops for deployment.

In the book, Hillier described the Iraq war as a “distraction” for the Americans. “Perhaps more importantly, the war in Iraq gave the Taliban heart at a time when it was largely beaten.”

Most Taliban who would later form the Afghan insurgency were hiding in Pakistan, their leadership almost entirely killed or captured, militants “soundly beaten” in battles with US forces and their source of funding from Muslim world supporters drying up.

But the Taliban saw from the few successes of “ragtag insurgents” in Iraq that “Western military forces could be hurt and maybe even have their will to fight destroyed.”

“They watched, learned and soon began applying the tactical lessons from Iraq in successfully attacking Western forces,” Hillier wrote. The Afghan insurgency got its second wind.

Hillier also lamented too few NATO troops in Afghanistan, what he described as a “minimalist approach to Afghanistan that severely constrained the mission there.”

It was only with a top-up of American troops this year that the alliance has reached the minimum 70,000 to 80,000 soldiers NATO has said is required to defeat the Taliban, he said.

earlier related report
NATO chief warns of price of inaction in Afghanistan
NATO’s chief urged alliance nations and its partners Thursday to step up efforts to build Afghan security forces, saying the price of inaction in the insurgency-hit country is too high to pay.

Ahead of NATO defence talks in Slovakia, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that failure now would destabilise the region and ultimately export that insecurity to Europe.

“I’m well aware that there is an increase in the number of people… who are asking if the costs of our engagement in Afghanistan is too high,” he told a conference of defence experts. “The costs of inaction would be far higher.

“Leaving Afghanistan behind would once again turn the country into a training ground for Al-Qaeda. The pressure on nuclear-armed Pakistan would be tremendous, insecurity would spread throughout Central Asia and it would only be a matter a time until we in Europe would feel the consequences,” he said.

NATO leads a force of some 70,000 troops drawn from 43 nations whose aim has been to foster security, democracy and reconstruction in a country wracked by more than 30 years of war, while US forces separately try to root out Al-Qaeda.

But insurgents, led by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and backed other networks and criminal gangs have seized the initiative, inflicting a growing number of casualties and undermining international support for the operation.

NATO defence ministers, meeting in Bratislava, are to try to sift out the best elements of a new counter-insurgency strategy with its focus on protecting Afghan civilians rather than hunting down fighters.

But the approach, drawn up by the top commander in Afghanistan — US General Stanley McChrystal — calls for a long-term and concerted effort, and it is unclear how many nations are willing to make that commitment.

Even as the United States debates whether to send up to 40,000 additional troops, the Netherlands and Australia are making plans to leave, while Britain has been hamstrung by budgetary problems.

And in a new book, Canada’s former top general, Rick Hillier, warned: “Afghanistan has revealed that NATO has reached the stage where it is a corpse, decomposing” and in need of “lifesaving” or “the alliance will be done.”

“It was crystal clear from the start that there was no strategy for the mission in Afghanistan,” he wrote.

Indeed McChrystal’s strategy may be NATO’s last chance.

Holding up implementation of it has been uncertainty over the fraud-tainted Afghan elections. For the strategy to work, people must have confidence in their government, and NATO wants a reliable partner to work with.

“We need to ask and to insist on much more from the incoming Afghan government when it comes to fighting corruption, improving government,” said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.

No troop commitments are likely to be made in Bratislava, although some could yet come before the second round of the polls are held on November 7, with President Hamid Karzai well placed to return to office.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was moving closer to making up his own mind on a request for tens of thousands of troops, jokingly employing language used by the White House press spokesman, he said: “I am moving into my personal decision phase.”

“This is a consultative process, and we are as interested in hearing from them (allies) as I am sure they are in hearing from us,” he told reporters travelling with him to Bratislava.

A key area where NATO and its partners can make advances is in training the Afghan army and police, and building them up to a combined total of around 400,000 personnel over the next four to five years.

“We all have to invest more in training and equipping the Afghan security forces and we need other international actors to beef up their efforts to help with reconstruction and development,” Rasmussen said.

“It is in fact a very simple calculation: we have to do more today in order to be able to do less tomorrow,” he added.



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