Test for NATO: US Plans Mini-Force in Post-2014 Afghanistan

By and

Afghan troops undergoing training last November in Kabul. Zoom
Getty Images

Afghan troops undergoing training last November in Kabul.

Officially, the West plans to continue helping Afghanistan beyond the conclusion of the NATO mission at the end of 2014. But the US is planning a massive withdrawal, leaving behind a skeletal force ofonly 10,000 troops. Washington's allies will have to fill the gaps that result.

The United States envisions only a minimal presence of American troops in Afghanistan once the NATO mission comes to an end in late 2014. SPIEGEL ONLINE has learned that fewer than 10,000 US soldiers are to remain stationed in the country beyond that date. Douglas Lute, special assistant to the US president on Pakistan and Afghanistan, informed NATO ambassadors of the plan at alliance headquarters in Brussels in the second week of February. He said that only half of the units stationed in Afghanistan beyond 2014 will be made available for training Afghan troops.

Lute's confidential briefing was the first official confirmation that the US foresees an extremely limited presence in the country going forward. And the numbers presented by Lute have alarmed the alliance. Though the post-mission support and training mission in Afghanistan -- to be carried out by NATO in conjunction with eight non-alliance countries -- has been under development for months, the extremely limited number of US troops available puts the alliance in a bind.

The aim of the mission -- now called Resolute Support after a pair of name changes -- is to ensure that the Afghan army, built up with great effort in recent years, doesn't immediately fall apart once the NATO mission, known as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), concludes. But Lute's presentation made it clear that US President Barack Obama is determined to radically shrink the American presence in Afghanistan following 2014. In his State of the Union address this month, Obama publicized his intention to bring home half of the 60,000 US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

The details of Washington's post-2014 plans were not known until Lute's briefing. Weeks prior, the US media had written of a "minimal option" calling for fewer than 10,000 soldiers to remain in the country, but the US government had made no official comment. Whether the topic is up for discussion at the meeting of NATO defense ministers this Thursday and Friday in Brussels is unclear. Because Chuck Hagel has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta traveled to Europe in his stead.

Raising the Bar for Germany and NATO

Presidential aid Lute left no doubt during his meeting with NATO ambassadors that Washington seeks to bring the unpopular mission to a rapid conclusion. As of this spring, all combat operations are to be led by Afghan military and security personnel while ISAF forces are to shift into a supporting role. Only by taking that step now, the US has told its European partners, can a withdrawal by the end of 2014 be achievable.

The strategy is not without risk. Such a rapid shift of responsibility could overwhelm the Afghan military, Lute acknowledged during his visit to Brussels.

Washington's mini-force raises the bar for Germany and other NATO member states. Lute said that the US expects that the German military will retain responsibility for Regional Command North and direct military training operations there beyond 2014. The US, he said, would coordinate training and support operations in the south and east. Italy is to continue its responsibility for the west.

But the US envisions a division of its forces. Only 5,000 of the 10,000 American troops foreseen by the plan are to be made available for the training mission. The other half will be earmarked for targeted operations against terror cells and al-Qaida camps as well as for the protection of US facilities in the country such as the embassy in Kabul.

In total, the post-2014 training mission is to encompass 15,000 troops. The US expects its NATO partners to plug any gaps that might result due to its limited presence. For Germany, the number is likely to remain large even after 2014, primarily due to the operation of the large camp in Mazar-e-Sharif.

Cause for Concern

Lute's comments regarding Washington's future troop numbers weren't the only part of his presentation that gave his European allies pause. While the US is prepared to continue offering air support after 2014, tactical capabilities such as the helicopter evacuation of the wounded are to be discontinued.

That is cause for concern. Almost all countries present in Afghanistan, including Germany, are dependent on American Medevac aircraft. The German military was only able to set up a functioning system for the evacuation and treatment of wounded fighters in the north with the help of the US. American medics were able to several times save the lives of German soldiers. Even if the post-2014 mission is to exclude combat operations, a functioning system to treat the wounded is indispensable.

Despite Lute's outline of US plans, the German government still hopes that details can be revised, noting that the final numbers have not yet been approved by Obama. But in his recent State of the Union address, the president made clear that "the nature of our commitment will change."

Military strategists in Berlin now know what he meant. The US will keep their future presence in Afghanistan as small as possible.

Article...
  • For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.
  • Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
1 total post
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1. No reason for a must
Inglenda2 02/21/2013
NATO was founded as a defence organisation, but has repeatedly been misused by the USA as a form of foreign legion in wars of aggression. The so-called help which the West plans to give, is little more than a cover-up for interference in the internal affairs of a country, which was never a danger to member states of the NATO. The massive withdrawal of US troops is therefore no reason for Washington's allies to fill the resulting gap. The people of Afghanistan did not ask us to go there and are more than capable of governing themselves, even if this means a rejection of the ideas which America and Europe have tried to force on them. Where a defence against extreme Islamic terrorism is really needed, is within Europe itself. With the failure of the Christian churches, to provide a form religion in which is true to the teachings of Christ, an enormous lack of faith has developed, leaving a vacuum which is now being filled by radical Muslim fervour. That is the real danger we must face, instead of sending our young men into countries where they are not wanted and often die for no good reason.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from World section
RSS

SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH




Photo Gallery
Photo Gallery: The Challenges of Training Police in Afghanistan

European Partners
Presseurop

Politiken

Corriere della Sera

Garlasco Acquittals Overturned

Anti-Europe Fever


Facebook
Twitter