Jones, NATO recruiting in Europe for Afghanistan effort
November 3, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan — Buoyed by recent successes, NATO soon will ask European nations to send more troops and equipment to Afghanistan. If enough nations pitch in, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan could be reduced.
The plan is to ask nations to stake a claim in the country, providing a more stable area a piece at a time, according to U.S. Marine Gen. James L. Jones, NATO’s supreme allied commander.
Following the successful Afghan presidential elections and the small victories at many regional outposts, Jones plans to seek more help from the alliance’s member nations, as well as others.
Jones hopes to point to people such as Thomas Scheibe, a lieutenant colonel in the German army, who said his unit is making a difference.
“There’s a woman I know from Germany who has come here for 10 years as [an aid worker],” Scheibe said. “She told me that Kunduz used to be a dead city. Now it’s humming with life.”
The Germans operate a Provincial Reconstruction Team, or PRT, in Kunduz. It’s one of 19 PRTs in Afghanistan, which range in size from 50 to 500 troops. Seven of those are run by NATO, and the rest by individual countries — the United States mans the most, but England, Germany, Spain and other countries also operate some.
The teams help establish good will, as well as law and order. They do it militarily by confiscating weapons and gathering intelligence, and do it civil-affairs-style by repairing roads and providing medical treatment, among other methods.
Country has many needs
NATO plans to install reconstruction teams around the country in four geographic phases. Stage 1 in the north is done; Stage 2 in the west is next up.
Afghanistan, which is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, had become a safe haven for terrorists as well as one of the world’s leading producers of illegal narcotics over the past two decades. It’s a vast, undeveloped country of mountains and barren landscapes run by territorial warlords.
The PRTs were established to stabilize regions, but peace isn’t Afghanistan’s only need — as the country is in need of an infrastructure overhaul — so Jones will ask countries for equipment and expertise.
Some nations already have contributed.
The Czech Republic has sent a battalion trained to take on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.
The Netherlands has contributed the 1st Helicopter Detachment, 301st Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Its six Apache helicopters, 110 troops and 24 vehicles are based in Kabul, the capital.
The helicopters act as deterrents while supporting troops on the ground.
“Mostly it’s just being in the air and scaring away the bad guys,” said Lt. Col. Coos Duinhof. He added that the Dutch choppers have yet to fire a shot in the conflict.
“We need more of those types of things,” Jones said. “It’s not for me to say whether [nations] should contribute a little or a lot. They have to do what they can do.
“But we can always give advice if we’re asked.”
For example, he said, the country now needs air traffic controllers and other flight-line specialists to help run Kabul International Airport.
“Obviously, the long-term answer is to train the Afghans to do it themselves,” Jones said. “The short-term answer is going to be a combination of military and perhaps contractors, because [it takes] very high skills here to run this airport.”
Internationalizing the effort
One month after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military invaded Afghanistan to hunt down the prime suspects: Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network.
The U.S. military also took down the aiding-and-abetting Taliban government that had come to power in 1996.
But for the good the U.S. military did, it had somehow become the big, bad wolf to many.
“There was a tendency to associate U.S. military engagements … as kick-in-doors driven,” said Daniel Riggio of NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division in Brussels, Belgium. “They were seen as being in staunch pursuit of the bad guy without regard to local cultures and sensitivities.”
The increase in international troops on the ground has helped spread the credit for Afghanistan’s gains, while also softening the presence of the United States, and the U.S. image has improved dramatically.
American troops are now seen in most of the country as being needed, Riggio said. Even though the United States has, by far, the most foreign troops in Afghanistan, troops from the other 36 nations are highly visible.
“There’s no risk as [the U.S. troops] being perceived as foreign occupying forces,” Riggio said.
Currently, there are about 18,000 U.S. troops in the country and between 6,500 and 8,000 other NATO forces there.
More elections upcoming
One election is completed: Hamid Karzai is set to be named president, receiving 55 percent of the nationwide vote on Oct. 9.
More than 10 million people registered to vote, including 4 million women, according to the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, the Kabul-based security and civil affairs arm of the effort to reconstruct Afghanistan.
Now that there is a president in place, parliamentary elections are being planned to elect local and regional representatives.
When they happen depends, in part, on security.
“We need national contributions for a few PRTs,” Jones said of Stage 2 in the west. “There are two U.S. PRTs out there right now.”
The current generation of Afghans has lived through coups, mass killings, a Soviet invasion and the oppressive Taliban regime. Now the 28 million Afghans living there have their first-ever elected president and must be prepared for the next phase.
“Once [nations] have the will, we can provide the way very quickly,” Jones said. “The important thing is that we have momentum.
“We’re not content with just Stage 2,” he added. “We want to do the entire plan. So we want to seize the momentum and get on with it.”