Political restrictions on the use of NATO forces in Afghanistan are putting troops there in danger, Gen. John Craddock told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday in Washington.

“The numerous national caveats restricting the use of NATO forces limit the employment of forces both among and within regional commands. These caveats, like shortfalls, increase the risk to every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine deployed in theater,” Craddock, the U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander, testified.

Craddock told the panel that there are more than 80 such caveats on the use of the 40-nation, 47,000-strong NATO force. There are about 19,000 Americans working under NATO in Afghanistan, with an additional 11,500 under the Operation Enduring Freedom banner, Craddock said.

“We are at a critical juncture in Afghanistan, and the (International Security Assistance Force) mission needs its military requirements filled immediately,” Craddock said. “Our nations’ forces are exceptional, but they need as much flexibility as possible to be effective on this asymmetric, irregular battlefield.”

Admitting that security in the country remains volatile, particularly in eastern and southern regions, Craddock mentioned that homemade bombing incidents and the numbers of killed and wounded are decreasing. In 2007, 144 ISAF troops were killed and another 970 were wounded. In 2006, 191 coalition troops were killed.

Although casualty numbers are decreasing, recent surveys show that Afghans’ overall feeling of security is as well. One reason for increased fear among the people, Craddock said, is, “NATO’s inability to fill its stated military requirements,” adding that though he feels NATO’s strategy is sound, it will only work if the forces it has are not politically constrained.

“Our opponents in Afghanistan operate and sustain their opposition against the international community within the gap that exists between the forces we need and the forces we have in theater,” Craddock said.

The number of NATO troops in Afghanistan rose by more than 8,700 last year, Craddock said

“Yet, ISAF still has shortfalls against the minimum military requirement in some key locations and in certain key capabilities. … Specifically, a major shortcoming … is the deficit in Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams.”

The lack of these trainers is causing American teams that could be training Afghan police forces to instead train Afghan National Army troops, Craddock said, adding that 22 additional teams will be needed by January 2009 to keep pace with current ANA growth.

“Competent ANA forces are essential in order to move to the transition phase of the ISAF operation,” Craddock said, adding that he has been encouraging NATO partners to fill the needed roles before the April NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania.

“Each nation has its own internal issues that it must address, but a completely resourced force sends a clear message to our adversary and the Afghan people — the message that NATO is committed to achieving success,” Craddock said.

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