The Oklahoman

NATO weighs lessons of waging major ops abroad

- Lorne Cook

BRUSSELS – NATO defense ministers on Thursday weighed what lessons to draw from the almost two-decadelong military mission in Afghanista­n, including whether the world’s biggest security organizati­on should even undertake major operations outside Europe and North America.

Ahead of the meeting at the U.S.-led military alliance’s headquarte­rs in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenber­g said the way the organizati­on’s biggest-ever operation ended shows that the challenges of such endeavors should not be underestim­ated.

“It highlights the challenges and the risks to engage in big missions and operations outside NATO territory,” Stoltenber­g told reporters. At the same time, he said, “the lesson cannot be that we will never engage.”

“We should not draw the wrong conclusion on Afghanista­n and think that NATO allies and NATO should never again engage in military operations to fight extremism, or terrorism,” he said.

NATO took the lead on internatio­nal security efforts in Afghanista­n in 2003 but ended combat operations in 2014 to focus on training local security forces. It helped build up an Afghan army of some 300,000 troops, but that force withered in just days in August in the face of a Taliban offensive.

More than 100,000 people were evacuated from the Afghan capital Kabul during the frenzied final days of a U.S. airlift after President Joe Biden said American troops would leave. Thousands of Afghans remained, desperate to escape the uncertaint­y of Taliban rule.

Stoltenber­g suggested that part of the problem for NATO might have been that its role became more demanding as the major internatio­nal effort to rebuild Afghanista­n developed, shifting the organizati­on away from its original task of destroying the al-Qaida network.

“We started with a very limited, narrow, military mission, fighting terrorism, degrading al-Qaida,” Stoltenber­g said. But NATO then became “only one of many players or actors,” including the EU and United Nations, in a broader “nation building effort,” he said.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbaue­r said it was important to learn “that purely military aims alone are not sufficient” when the ultimate goal is to foster democracy and stabilize a country wracked by decades of conflict.

“If you are pursuing longer-term political aims with this, possibly you need even more patience than 20 years, and above all ... you have to describe the aims in very concrete and realistic terms, because otherwise you get what we saw in Afghanista­n – that we achieved our military aims over 20 years but nation-building ultimately failed in the long term,” she told reporters.

The actual job of identifyin­g lessons is being handled by NATO’s 30 deputy national envoys, under the lead of Assistant Secretary General for Operations John Manza. Manza was to submit his initial findings in a report to the ministers. A final report is due to be debated by NATO foreign ministers in early December.

 ?? VIRGINIA MAYO/AP ?? NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenber­g, left, speaks with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, Thursday at NATO headquarte­rs in Brussels.
VIRGINIA MAYO/AP NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenber­g, left, speaks with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, Thursday at NATO headquarte­rs in Brussels.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States