By Alexander Szandar and Susanne Koelbl
The tension in Afghanistan could become even worse if the situation in neighboring Pakistan, the hub for ISAF's logistics operations, spins out of control. In the wake of the confusion Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf triggered by imposing a state of emergency, senior NATO military leaders now fear that the country could very well descend into total chaos after the elections scheduled for January. If US ally Musharraf does not manage to retain his hold on power, the already half-hearted efforts by the Pakistani military leadership, permeated with Islamists, to stem Taliban and al-Qaida activities in the Pashtun tribal regions could fail completely.
Nevertheless, these strategy games are merely a secondary pursuit for a handful of selected officers, instructed to maintain absolute secrecy, in Kabul, at NATO's Allied Joint Force Command Headquarters in Brunssum, the Netherlands, and at NATO military headquarters in Mons, Belgium. The overwhelming majority of the organization's senior military personnel are involved in the ongoing operations against the Taliban.
But the allies seriously disagree over what should come next after the winter offensive.
NATO must finally "define the goals of its commitment precisely," German Defense Minister Jung wrote in a classified document he presented to his counterparts at a meeting in the Dutch town of Noordwijk in October. According to Jung, NATO needs a "plan of campaigns" for the next few years and clear "criteria to define and measure success and failure." Besides, he added, "closer coordination" with civilian aid organizations, as well as with the United Nations, the European Union and the Afghan government in Kabul is needed to advance the approach of "networked security" with civilian-military reconstruction teams.
But the allies chose to ignore Jung's suggestions. Instead, the NATO Council reverted to its usual method of addressing differences of opinion and assembled a project group.
But US Defense Secretary Gates, on behalf of the United States, the dominant NATO power, has already determined where the organization should be headed. In a hearing before the US House Armed Services Committee, Gates said that the alliance's focus in the coming years should be "to counter terrorist networks and triumph over insurgencies." To defeat the Taliban, Gates said, the US's European allies will need to provide more troops, helicopters and other weaponry.
Public Mood Is Shifting
But the allies are not exactly inclined to heed Gates's words. Only a few small nations like Croatia, Albania and Georgia offered significant numbers of troops, hoping this would improve their chances of swift admittance to NATO.
In many other countries, however, a heated public debate has erupted over how long the alliance's troops should continue to support a country in which drug production continues to reach new record highs and corruption has eaten its way into the highest levels of government.
In Germany, at any rate, the mood has already shifted. According to recent opinion polls, half of all Germans no longer support the country's Afghanistan mission and favor withdrawing the Bundeswehr from the country.
Public opinion is similar in Canada, which has more than 1,700 troops fighting in southern Afghanistan and has already lost 29 soldiers this year. According to an official who Peter Struck, the floor leader of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), recently sent to Canada to sound out the political mood there, the government in Ottawa is coming under increasing pressure. According to the official, if the current opposition wins next year's election, its first move will be to "announce the withdrawal of troops."
The Dutch have already taken that step. After losing eight soldiers in Afghanistan this year, the cabinet ended a series of heated debates with a clear resolution. The government in The Hague announced that it had reached an irrevocable decision to begin withdrawing its troops, stationed primarily in war-torn Uruzgan Province, in August 2010. Under the resolution, the last of the Dutch soldiers will be home by Christmas 2010.
The Dutch decision may have set a precedent, raising concerns among NATO military leaders over a possible domino effect. If only one major NATO country yields to domestic pressure and decides to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, it could set off an avalanche, a Norwegian general recently told Wolfgang Schneiderhan, the inspector general of the Bundeswehr. "It would be a strategic defeat for the alliance."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
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