NATO looks to seize mo­men­tum in Afghanistan con­flict

Business World - - THEWORLD -

BRUS­SELS — De­fense min­is­ters from across the North At­lantic Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion (NATO) al­liance meet in Brus­sels on Thurs­day to re­view next steps in the Afghanistan con­flict and brain­storm ways to deal with the 16-year-old se­cu­rity cri­sis.

NATO this week an­nounced it would be send­ing some 3,000 ex­tra troops to the wartorn coun­try, bring­ing the West­ern mil­i­tary foot­print up to about 16,000 sol­diers.

The ad­di­tional troops, most of them Amer­i­can, will help train and ad­vise lo­cal Afghan forces who have strug­gled to hold the Tal­iban at bay while suf­fer­ing heavy ca­su­al­ties.

NATO lead­ers are op­ti­mistic that 2018 could see Afghan forces start to gain mo­men­tum against the Tal­iban, thanks to re­newed train­ing ef­forts, a grow­ing air force and thou­sands of ex­tra Afghan com­man­dos.

Plus US Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump has given Amer­i­can forces greater lee­way in how and when they can hit the Tal­iban, and Afghan forces are in­creas­ingly go­ing on the of­fen­sive.

Speak­ing ahead of the NATO de­fense min­is­ters sum­mit in Brus­sels, Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Jens Stoltenberg said the al­liance would boost its pres­ence “to help the Afghans break the stale­mate, to send a clear mes­sage to Tal­iban to the in­sur­gents that they will not win on the bat­tle­ground.”

Im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the NATO sum­mit, US De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis will host a sep­a­rate meet­ing with part­ners from the coali­tion fight­ing the Is­lamic State (IS) group in the Mid­dle East, where the ji­hadists con­tinue to lose territory.

Mr. Mat­tis said coali­tion part­ners are look­ing to the United States for a clear plan about what fol­lows the phys­i­cal de­feat of IS.

“Maybe three-quar­ters of the ques­tions I am get­ting asked now is (about) go­ing for­ward. It’s not about are we go­ing to be able to stop ISIS, are we go­ing to be able to over­come ISIS. They are now say­ing: ‘What’s next? How is it look­ing?’” Mr. Mat­tis told re­porters this week us­ing an­other acro­nym for the group.

Fol­low­ing back-to-back losses, in­clud­ing of their Syr­ian and Iraqi strongholds of Raqa and Mo­sul, IS fight­ers are down to de­fend­ing their last hold­outs along the Euphrates River val­ley.

Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in Syria has un­til now been fo­cused solely on fight­ing IS, but with the ji­hadists on the ropes, Wash­ing­ton must ar­tic­u­late its longer-term in­ter­ests and what role, if any, US forces will play in Syria.

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