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February 07, 2008

Coming up short in Afghanistan
Posted by Max Bergmann

Buried in the New York Times article on Afghanistan is this nugget from the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan:

General McNeill, speaking at a Pentagon news briefing, said that if official American military counterinsurgency doctrine were applied, more than 400,000 allied and Afghan troops would be required in Afghanistan.

There are in total about 40,000 coalition troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Just like in Iraq we are attempting to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy without the capabilities to actually effectively implement such a strategy. Now we aren't ever going to have 400,000 troops in Afghanistan, but we would definitely be able to address the war there more effectively if our forces weren't so heavily diverted to Iraq.

In recognition of the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan and in light of our strategy vs. capabilities gap we are currently begging the Europeans to send more troops. There is no doubt that the Europeans should contribute more to the effort. But their reluctance is not just a case of being "weak kneed Europeans," as the administration suggests. It is a by-product of the fact that we ourselves neglect Afghanistan. As Mullen explained so clearly, “In Afghanistan we do what we can and Iraq we do what we must.” Why contribute more to an effort that is seen as a distraction?

But European reluctance to pick up the slack also has to be seen as a backlash against the Bush administration. The popularity of the United States, and especially the Bush administration, is incredibly low. Europeans view Afghanistan, rightly or wrongly, as another Bush war and want little part of it. We aren’t the only ones that have domestic politics and supporting America in a long protracted war is just not popular in Europe. As one German commentator noted,

“Partners in an alliance have to also understand the domestic debates in a partner country like Germany.” He added: “The Americans quite often show up in Europe and the president tells us, ‘Look I’ll never get that through Congress.’ Something similar is happening here.”

So after being dismissed during the initial invasion of Afghanistan as irrelevant, after mocking European opposition in the run-up to the war in Iraq, and after attempting to divide Europe between old and new, it should hardly be surprising that Europeans are reluctant to do more at our request in Afghanistan.

I guess being an ass does matter after all. 


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Sec. Gates' complaint is that European governments other than those of Great Britain, Denmark, and the Netherlands (plus Australia and Canada) are unwilling to deploy troops to areas where they might be at risk of having to engage in combat and suffer casualties. This is precisely the complaint the Clinton administration made about the Europeans while Yugoslavia was falling apart 15 years ago. Clinton administration officials were right then and Gates is right now.

It's a tad misleading to mention that comment about 400,000 troops and comparing it to the 40,000 NATO while ignoring the 20,000 or so US not in the NATO force and the 80,000 or so Afghans.

It's is precisely the lack of support for the training mission to get more Afghan units up and running that it at the heart of some complaints NATO is not doing enough.

The major complaints are not from the US alone. Canada and the UK are very annoyed with most of the other nations because they feel, rightly, that they are some of the few willing to do combat in the south. Canada has said it will pull it's troops out if they do not get more help.

To say NATO nations are not willing to help in Afghanistan because the US and/or the Bush administration have been an "ass" is so simplistic and ridiculous it undermines the authors credibility.

Europeans are not willing to fund very modest levels of peace keeping capability in their forces. The small NATO force in Afghanistan is short basic kit like transport helicopters. Europe can't be bothered to spend very much past the make work programs that pass for a military in many of their nations and do not have the political will to correct this to enable them to do more if they had the political will to do so in Afghanistan.

The only nations doing combat are the UK, Canada, Holland, US and I belief Denmark. Many of these nations are rather annoyed with the rest of NATO. I believe Holland even quips to Canada and the UK that they should stop bothering asking the rest to help as it's pointless.

The state of military affairs in Europe is shameful. NATO voted to support the US after 9/11 and voted to have NATO lead in Afghanistan under UN mandate. When one can not be bothered to provide enough forces for the UN missions which Europeans often cite as the only things they will support it begs the question whether there is any role or mission they are willing to undertake other than critic? It's disgusting and more so that we get an essay here saying it's because the US or Bush is an "ass". Shame.

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