Draft Conference Communiqué NATO Envisions Many More Years in Afghanistan

Heads of NATO member states are fond of talking about when the alliance might begin to withdraw from Afghanistan. But a draft communiqué ahead of the conference in London makes it clear: NATO will stay in the war-torn country for years to come. It may also start paying Taliban fighters to lay down their arms.


Those in political leadership are fond of insinuating that NATO's mission in Afghanistan may soon be coming to an end. But the reality looks quite a bit different. In a draft copy of the closing statement prepared for the upcoming Afghanistan conference in London -- which SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained -- meeting participants underline their "long-term commitment" to Afghanistan and to the military operation there.

Instead of a timeline for withdrawal, the draft statement merely says "over the next few years, the nature of international support should evolve ... from direct action to support." Indeed, for optimists in Germany and other NATO member states, the eight-page paper is full of disappointments. The Afghan army and police forces, for example, are to only take the lead on a "majority of operations in insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years."

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Afghanistan won't take full responsibility for its own security for another half a decade, according to the draft paper. Such a formulation adheres closely to the timeline set out by the Afghan government -- and is seemingly a far cry from the vision outlined by US President Barack Obama, who has pledged to begin the US drawdown in 2011.

The withdrawal date foreseen by Germany's opposition Social Democrats likewise seems doubtful. Even if the Afghans were able to take the lead on security in five years, as outlined in the draft statement, that hardly means that NATO could withdraw immediately.

Far-Reaching Reform

Still, the paper includes some good news. Some provinces -- those not currently considered to be Taliban territory -- could be turned over to Afghan control "by late 2010/early 2011." NATO troops would only play a supporting role from then on. Such a scenario is certainly conceivable for the provinces in which German forces are currently based. But even if the Bundeswehr were to move into a supporting role, Berlin's NATO allies would certainly insist that they stay to continue training Afghan army recruits.

The draft statement also includes a far-reaching reform of the way Afghan troops are currently trained. NATO member states are to commit themselves to a form of training known as "partnering." German military trainers have thus far been content to instruct their Afghan charges in the safety of a base or from armored vehicles. " Partnering," however, foresees Bundeswehr trainers integrating into Afghan units and instructing them during operations. The model, used by the United States, is much more dangerous than that used by the German troops -- but German Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg is intent on adopting it.

Germany is to arrive in London with a package of modest pledges to boost its Afghanistan contingent. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Tuesday that her government is planning on sending an additional 500 troops to the war-torn country, with 350 more going to a reserve force. In addition, Berlin will provide €50 million ($70.44 million) to an international fund aimed at bringing Taliban insurgents into the mainstream. Additional development money and police trainers are also thought to be part of the package.

A Fund for the Taliban

German Development Minister Dirk Niebel on Tuesday said that the focus of his country's engagement in Afghanistan will be on civil reconstruction projects. Niebel, who is a member of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) took part in a meeting with Merkel and other government ministers to hash out Germany's position for the London conference.

The program to persuade Taliban fighters to lay down their arms, also included in the draft communiqué, is among the most controversial elements of NATO's way forward. Under the plan, the international community will help fund an Afghan government-led "Reintegration and Reconciliation Program" to offer Taliban members cash if they stop fighting the government and ISAF troops, renounce violence, pledge to integrate into a free society and sever contacts with the al-Qaida network.

But the reintegration program, which German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle supports, could prove difficult to implement. The US plans to devote hundreds of millions of dollars to it in addition to the German pledge. But no one knows how the program is going to work in practice or who will monitor the Afghan government's efforts. The precise plan is to be hammered out at a successor conference in Kabul.

A Mammoth Task for NATO

The communiqué gives a sense of the enormity of the tasks facing the international community and the Afghan government. It envisages massively expanding the training of the Afghan police and military in the coming 10 months with the aim of increasing the number of trained soldiers to 134,000 and of police to 109,000. From October 2011, tens of thousands of additional recruits will be trained, raising the numbers to 171,000 soldiers and 134,000 police. This goal is a mammoth task for NATO.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces a long catalogue of demands in the communiqué. Couched in diplomatic speech, the international community is insisting that he keeps the promises he made when he took office. Diplomats say the Afghan government has pledged to meet the many demands and has in some cases even given written assurances.

Waning Confidence in Karzai

The list of demands includes:

  • a number of anti-corruption steps, including the setting up of new official entities to monitor and oversee the fight against corruption;
  • better control of state bodies;
  • respecting human rights;
  • improving the collection of taxes to finance the government budget;
  • improving coordination between Afghan and international reconstruction efforts;
  • battling the cultivation and distribution of drugs;
  • establishing a fair judicial system.

The West plans to get tough with the Afghan government on combating corruption. Despite strong resistance from Kabul, the draft communiqué calls for the establishment of an "International Monitoring Group" to keep an eye on all activities of the Karzai government. Kabul has continued to reject such control as interference -- but the international community simply no longer trusts the Afghan president.


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