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Infighting among NATO members snarls Afghan mission, ex-commander says

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DOUG SAUNDERS
Globe and Mail (Canada)
November 2, 2007

LONDON — Chaos and competing goals among NATO nations involved in Afghanistan are preventing progress there, according to the British general who commanded the Afghan mission until February.

“The nations contributing to [the NATO mission in Afghanistan], together with the Afghan government, have yet to agree, and to start efficiently implementing, a coherent strategy,” Sir David Richards told a conference of leaders yesterday organized by the Canadian government in London.

Gen. Richards was frank about the reason for this deterioration: “General Dan McNeill, the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] commander, has too few troops to conduct the operation in a manner that meets the basic rules of a counterinsurgency campaign.”

One senior official experienced with the war said that “we need at least a doubling of ISAF presence – and probably a lot more than that – if we are to achieve the minimum goals of the campaign.” There are currently more than 41,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Canadian officials, in off-the-record interviews, acknowledged that the nation-building and aid efforts run by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the military efforts led by General Rick Hillier are poorly co-ordinated and that top officials are increasingly at odds with one another.

Gen. Hillier was criticized by officials from the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday for saying it will be at least a decade before Afghanistan is able to field a military capable of managing its security on its own.

But most officials say privately that, at current troop and funding levels, there is little chance of any lasting progress in the conflict-ridden south of Afghanistan, where Canada’s 2,500 soldiers are headquartered.

NATO’s former top general, Klaus Naumann, agreed yesterday with Gen. Richards that too few of the troops in Afghanistan are in combat roles. When he was in Afghanistan last year, he said that NATO could at best deploy no more than 5,000 troops to combat roles and had no reserves available with which to escalate military operations.

“NATO nations have to end the lukewarm way they handle these conflicts,” he said in an interview after a presentation to the Atlantic Treaty Association, a meeting of academics, diplomats, military officials and policy makers from the 26 NATO member nations taking place this week in Ottawa. He said if Canada withdrew its 2,500 soldiers, it would leave the cohesion of the military alliance in “big jeopardy.”

In private conversations, NATO commanders generally agree that the number of troops are inadequate for the task of stabilizing the south enough to bring in effective governance, as is the amount of aid funding, which is less than that devoted to the much smaller nation of Bosnia during the war there in the early 1990s.

Canadian officials say they are alarmed by the lack of progress in building a functioning police force, which was considered a basic step in the reconstruction mission.

“There are more Afghans at work, there are more Afghans at school, there are more Afghan police forces on the streets, there are more Afghan army units working side by side with ours,” said Arif Lalani, who has been Canada’s ambassador to Kabul for the past six months. “But the biggest challenge, and one we hear about most, is the police. We have a long way to go on police.”

There is a feeling among many leaders that coalition partners, especially the United States, led the Afghan people to believe they could expect a level of nation-building that will be impossible to deliver on the current budgets and troop levels. Some officials said that Afghan expectations need to be lowered.

“We have said a lot of things to the Afghan people that we have not delivered on,” one senior official said. “You don’t make promises you can’t deliver on, and I think everyone here knows that we’ve done that too many times.”

Gen. Richards spoke of “the current, rather balkanized situation, in which each nation – understandably – wants to succeed in its province, but sometimes, sadly, at the expense of the operation as a whole.”

Senior officials said Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been unable to build an effective government because he has become frustrated by the conflicting agendas of member nations. He reportedly told one senior official, “The international community has to decide what you want me to focus on.”

Canadian officials acknowledged that the need to change the approach to Afghanistan, and particularly in the balance between military objectives and social nation-building goals, is urgent.

“I think we need to have a transformation in some of the key files,” said Mr. Lalani, the ambassador. “If you look at education and you look at the health sector … we can build on the success. On other files such as police, governance, corruption, counternarcotics, I think we need actions that are going to transform those files.”

Mr. Lalani and his colleagues spoke optimistically of progress being made in Afghan society, and Gen. Richards said that officials now have a better understanding of the Afghan situation. But he added “we have yet to translate that understanding into a coherent, complementary implementation of what are currently many different plans and priorities.”

“The perception as well as the reality in the south [where the Canadians and British are fighting], and to a lesser extent in the east, is certainly less good.” Gen. Richards said.

“Here, the picture is one of slow progress, broken promises, unmet expectations and poor security.”

With a report from Alan Freeman in Ottawa

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Written by afghandevnews

November 4, 2007 at 2:04 am

Posted in Security

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