NATO leaders go on the record about Afghanistan
It would be “fatally wrong” to pull Germany’s troops out of Afghanistan, and the more word gets out about the positive things they’re doing in the country, the more the public will accept that, according to Germany’s Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung.
“Instead of 1 million children, there are now 7 million [Afghan children] at schools,” Jung recently told Stars and Stripes. “Girls were not allowed at all to attend school under the Taliban regime. We have freed this country from its terror regime.”
He ticked off more achievements: improved infrastructure, a wide array of radio and TV stations, 8 million people using cell phones.
But when asked whether Germany, which has about 4,000 troops in the country, would be willing to contribute more, Jung simply said the parliament approved sending a total of 4,500. He declined to clarify whether Germany would increase its troop level.
Better to discuss the overall goal of how NATO nations can help Afghanistan shape its future, he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to see little enthusiasm from countries to contribute more troops to the effort as he meets with NATO defense ministers this week.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is pledging to add 500 to the 9,000 troops that are the second largest force in Afghanistan — but only if other NATO nations also do their share, if British troops get enough equipment and if the government in Kabul vows to recruit more soldiers for training.
Italian Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa agrees with Gen. Stanley McCrystal’s assessment that more troops are needed “although not necessarily Italian troops,” he was quoted as saying in the newspaper Corriere della Sera. Debate over Italy’s presence in the country heated up after six Italian soldiers were killed in an attack in Kabul in September.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy this month was quoted as saying he’d not send “a single soldier more” and his foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said last month, “This is not Vietnam, but there is no military prospect of a victory.” The French have about 2,800 troops in Afghanistan after sending an extra 700 to Kapisa province last year.
Canadian troops working in and around southern Kandahar province are slated to be withdrawn by 2011, although politicians have discussed leaving some Canadians for training and other specific duties.
While training more indigenous forces is a key part of McChrystal’s strategy, Alain Pellerin, a retired Canadian army colonel and head of Canada’s Conference of Defence Associations, noted that those trainers will still need security.
“Describing the training of the Afghan army outside the wire as a noncombat mission is, in my view, a nonstarter,” Pellerin said. “A number of our people that got killed recently were outside the wire training the Afghan army.”
Adding to the International Security Assistance Force’s difficulties, some NATO countries still have militaries built for the Cold War, not long-term expeditionary missions, according to Leo Michel, a senior research fellow at the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.
The Dutch and Canadian militaries have fought extensively, he said, but they “don’t have the ability to sustain that for much longer, politically or militarily.” The Dutch are set to withdraw next year.