NATO pon­ders fu­ture of Afghan mis­sion

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

KABUL/ZARAGOZA: NATO part­ners are con­sid­er­ing ways of beef­ing up their train­ing and as­sis­tance mis­sion in Afghanistan as con­cern grows over the abil­ity of lo­cal forces to fight an es­ca­lat­ing in­sur­gency by Tal­iban mil­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials in Brus­sels and Kabul.

The Tale­ban’s suc­cess in seiz­ing the north­ern city of Kun­duz in late Septem­ber and hold­ing it for sev­eral days caused shock among Afghanistan’s in­ter­na­tional part­ners, who have in­vested bil­lions of dol­lars try­ing to cre­ate a se­cu­rity force ca­pa­ble of stand­ing on its own.

“The sit­u­a­tion is sober­ing, it is not as sta­ble as we hoped it would be,” said Gen­eral Hans-Lothar Dom­roese, a vet­eran of Afghanistan who is Ger­many’s sec­ond-most se­nior gen­eral in the NATO al­liance. Speak­ing at the mar­gins of a NATO ex­er­cise in Spain, he said weak gov­ern­ment con­trol in many ar­eas and cor­rup­tion were mak­ing the job of re­in­forc­ing se­cu­rity more dif­fi­cult, but added: “If we don’t stay, they will drift into a mael­strom, and there is a sig­nif­i­cant dan­ger that they get torn away.”

Min­is­ters from NATO coun­tries are due to meet in early De­cem­ber to de­cide on the fu­ture of Res­o­lute Sup­port, the non-com­bat NATO-led mis­sion launched in Jan­uary to train, ad­vise and as­sist the Afghan gov­ern­ment and se­cu­rity forces.

For­mally the NATO-Afghan agree­ment is open-ended, but in prac­tice its fu­ture de­pends on mem­ber coun­tries’ will­ing­ness to com­mit troops and resources.

“CAN’T HELP FOR­EVER”

Of­fi­cials de­scribe a sense of fa­tigue and doubt about the strat­egy of the coali­tion of NATO part­ners and al­lies fol­low­ing Wash­ing­ton’s an­nounce­ment it would ex­tend troop lev­els through most of 2016 due to wors­en­ing se­cu­rity.

“No­body is pleased with the progress,” said one NATO diplo­mat in Brus­sels, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. “The al­liance’s forces can’t keep help­ing for­ever ... Right now we are help­ing them more than we’d like.”

How­ever, no one Reuters spoke to ex­pected a ma­jor over­haul of the mis­sion, or sug­gested NATO mem­bers would send ad­di­tional troops back to Afghanistan or re­turn to com­bat.

There are fewer than 14,000 coali­tion troops in the coun­try, com­pared to around 140,000 a few years ago. Pre­vi­ous plans to re­duce the num­bers fur­ther ap­pear to be on hold, and sev­eral na­tions have sig­nalled they will ex­tend their troop lev­els along with the United States.

Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil spokesman Tawab Ghorzang said the Afghan gov­ern­ment was happy with Res­o­lute Sup­port, which had proved “very suc­cess­ful”. “We hope that our friendly na­tions, es­pe­cially the RS mis­sion, con­tinue their sup­port till the elim­i­na­tion of ter­ror­ism threats in Afghanistan,” he said in a state­ment. But af­ter 14 years of fight­ing, with more than 3,000 coali­tion dead, there is lit­tle ap­petite in Western coun­tries for deeper mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in Afghanistan.

“We will not go into a new com­bat op­er­a­tion,” NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg told re­porters re­cently. At the same time, the tens of thou­sands of refugees head­ing to Europe has high­lighted one of the re­sults of let­ting the coun­try slide into an­ar­chy, leav­ing gov­ern­ments with lit­tle choice but to try to make the mis­sion work bet­ter.

“RO­BUST AD­VICE”

“Ro­bust ad­vice is what we need,” Dom­roese said, adding that as well as im­proved close air sup­port, thought should be given to giv­ing Afghan forces more ac­cess to in­tel­li­gence and sur­veil­lance data held back un­der ex­ist­ing rules. “If I can see there is some­body com­ing around the cor­ner and I can’t tell the Afghans, can’t en­able them, then you may have to tackle this is­sue again po­lit­i­cally and re­think Res­o­lute Sup­port,” Dom­roese said. Afghan of­fi­cials have re­peat­edly pleaded for help in ar­eas like close air sup­port when forces come un­der at­tack by the Tal­iban, but a lack of equip­ment and trained per­son­nel has made strength­en­ing the tiny air force dif­fi­cult.

How­ever, some Western of­fi­cials ex­press scep­ti­cism about the value of ex­tend­ing a mis­sion to sup­port an ill-paid, some­times de­mor­alised se­cu­rity force rid­dled with cor­rup­tion. —Reuters

CHENNAI: In­di­ans make their way on a flooded street in Chennai yes­ter­day fol­low­ing heavy rain from an ap­proach­ing cy­clonic sys­tem off the coast. In­dian me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal author­i­ties have is­sued a cy­clone alert for the Bay of Ben­gal coast in Tamil Nadu. —AFP

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